Working in the California Beauty Industry: What to Know

Considering a career in cosmetology, esthetics, or another beauty field in California? Chances are you have questions.

Well, we have answers!

Read on to learn more about the California beauty industry.

Attending Beauty School in California

Here are answers to common questions about beauty school and licensure in California.

Where Should I Go to Beauty School In California?

California's Board of Barbering & Cosmetology has a list of the many beauty schools they've given the thumbs up to. These state-approved schools will allow you to get a license after graduating.

In addition, the Beauty Schools Directory editorial staff researched schools that publish their student outcomes and selected top cosmetology schools in California. You can also find lists of our top-ranked California beauty schools by metro area to browse locally.

Best Cosmetology Schools in California Metro Areas

We've ranked the top cosmetology schools in metro areas within or near California to help you find your perfect fit.

What Can I Study in Beauty School in California?

California licensing requires that you study different topics over specific numbers of hours. You can read the official curriculum requirements on the California Board of Barbering & Cosmetology site or review this quick summary:

California Beauty School Curriculum

Cosmetology
1,000 hours are required to become licensed in California.

Subjects taught include safety and infections; customer service; hair, scalp, skin, and nail evaluation; hairstyling; haircutting; chemical services; skin care; makeup; hair removal; and nails.

Learn more about becoming a cosmetologist

Barbering
1,000 hours are required to become licensed in California.

Subjects taught include safety and infections; customer service; hair, scalp, and skin evaluation; hairstyling; haircutting; chemical services; shaving; and skincare.

Learn more about becoming a barber

Esthetics
600 hours are required to become licensed in California.

Subjects taught include safety and infections, customer service, skin evaluation, skin care, makeup, hair removal, and advanced skin treatments.

Learn more about becoming an esthetician

Electrology
600 hours are required to become licensed in California.

Subjects taught include safety and infections; customer service; hair, scalp, and skin evaluation; general analysis and treatment; and electricity and equipment.

Learn more about becoming an electrologist

Manicuring
400 hours are required to become licensed in California.

Subjects taught include safety and infections, customer service, and nails.

Learn more about becoming an manicurist

Can I Apprentice Instead of Going to Beauty School in California?

You can apprentice as a cosmetologist, barber, or electrologist in California.

To apprentice in the California beauty industry, you must work with specific supervision for up to at least 3,200 hours over two years. You also need to take a least 220 Related Supplemental Instruction classes.

How Much Does Cosmetology School Cost in California?

Cosmetology school costs in California range from under $10,000 to about $25,000. Shorter programs like esthetics and nail technology usually cost less. Specialized programs, such as those that may offer advanced instruction in film makeup and special effects, may cost more.

How Can I Pay for Beauty School in California?

You can pay for beauty school in California out of pocket or with loans, scholarships, or grants. There’s a lot more to learn about costs and sources of funding before taking this step, but here's where you can read up on these topics in more detail:

What Scholarships are Available for California Beauty School Students?

Scholarships specific to California students may be offered by nonprofits, organizations, companies, and schools. Individual schools most commonly offer cosmetology scholarships, but a few you could apply for outside of schools are:

Looking For More Scholarships?

BeautySchoolsDirectory.com offers a $2,500 scholarship for beauty and wellness professionals. We've also gathered the most comprehensive list of nationwide scholarships available for beauty students.

California Cosmetology Jobs and Licenses

Before you can practice many beauty jobs in California, you need a license. Below, you can find information about California beauty exams and licenses.

What Tests Do I Need to Take to Get a California Cosmetology License?

As of 2022, you only have to take the written test to get a cosmetology license in California. You don't have to show off your skills in a practical exam anymore!

Tests for different careers require different things, though:

  • Barber (120 minutes): 85 scored questions, 10 pretest (unscored) questions
  • Cosmetologist (120 minutes): 100 score questions 10 pretest (unscored) questions
  • Esthetician (90 minutes): 75 scored questions, 10 pretest (unscored) questions
  • Electrologist (90 minutes): 50 scored questions, 10 pretest (unscored) questions
  • Manicurist (90 minutes): 60 scored questions, 10 pretest (unscored) questions

Do I Need to Speak English to Take My Licensure Test in California?

You can take the California cosmetology test in English, Korean, Spanish, or Vietnamese. But, the tutorial and end-of-test survey are in English only.

If you don't speak those languages or read English at a 10th-grade level or higher, you can ask for an interpreter. Be sure to do this early!

What Beauty Jobs Do I Need Licenses for in California?

Cosmetologists, barbers, estheticians, electrologists, and manicurists need licenses in California.

Do Salon Managers in California Need Licenses?

Salon managers in California do need licenses. But salon managers need business licenses and have no schooling requirements.

What Beauty Jobs Can I Do Without a License in California?

California doesn't require licenses for hair design, makeup, braiding, massage, or permanent makeup. But you might need to register with a local board in specific fields, like permanent makeup.

You may also be interested in more niche beauty careers in the state, some of which may be possible without a license in California. If in doubt, check out the state board's website to see the most up-to-date information, or get in touch with them directly with your question.

Are Any Beauty Jobs Not Allowed in California?

Beauty professionals in California may not perform Botox, tattoo, laser hair, or spider-vein removal. Only physicians or medical professionals registered with the Medical Board of California can.

California Cosmetology Career Planning

It's important to plan for your future career even before you choose a school. Here, you can find information about planning your beauty industry career in California.

What Can I Do with My California Beauty License or Training?

The real question is: What can't you do with your beauty license in California?!

OK, there are lots of things you can't or shouldn't do with beauty training (hello, brain surgery! – or even Botox) but California offers many unique opportunities for cosmetology professionals.

The state has a ton of amusement parks, film and theater locations, hotels, salons, and spas. A lot of them hire makeup and hair pros.

What Are the Most In-Demand Beauty Jobs in California?

Many beauty jobs are in demand in California. This is definitely true in Los Angeles, as cosmetics companies are exploding. All areas are growing. But the more you specialize via continuing education, the better luck you may have.

Medical Esthetician

  • Why choose this job: Medical estheticians help people heal after surgeries, so you can do a lot of good!
  • Career outlook: California has the third-highest number of cosmetic surgeries as of 2022. Medical estheticians are often on hospital staff
  • Salary potential: $ 18.17 per hour (national average) in physicians' offices
  • Learn more about how to become a medical esthetician.

Natural Hair and Hair Braiding Specialists

  • Why choose this job: The CROWN Act banned job discrimination against Black people with natural hair or braids. So, your skills would be cutting-edge.
  • Career outlook: Since the CROWN Act passed, the number of people needing natural hair care should rise.
  • Salary potential: About $41,907 per year in Los Angeles. The top-paying cities nationwide are San Francisco, Fremont, and San Jose.
  • Learn more about how to become a hair braider.

Performing Arts Makeup Artistry

  • Why choose this job: California is THE place for this industry. If you're into prosthetic makeup or wig making, you have skills the average cosmetologist doesn't.
  • Career outlook: It's expected to increase by 37% nationally between 2018 and 2028.
  • Salary potential:The mean pay for this field in California is $136,340 per year! But, this doesn't include self-employed workers who may make around $60,000.
  • Learn more about how to become a makeup artist.

Major Cosmetics Company Employment

  • Why choose this job: The cosmetics industry is blowing up, and the Los Angeles area seems to be at the heart of this.
  • Career outlook: Online purchases from LA, Riverside, and Orange counties are up 27%. Plus, people now spend one-third more.
  • Salary potential: This depends hugely on the job you do.

How Can I Do Makeup and Hair for Movies and TV In California?

Let's be honest: Becoming a movie and TV professional is hard. To work in hair and makeup in Hollywood, you need to be ready for a long career grind. But, people who work in the industry seem to love it!

A performing arts makeup and hair stylist doesn't necessarily need a degree. But training is necessary. The Los Angeles Times paraphrases Oscar-winning makeup artist Ve Neill:

"Even though YouTube offers a wealth of educational material on the subject, there is nothing that replaces hands-on experience."

Neill and several other makeup pros in different career stages generally agree:

  • You need training, official or otherwise.
  • You need to put forth a good amount of money upfront, and you won't always get it back.
  • Prosthetics are essential to know about.
  • No job is more important than another, so you should want to try all sorts of things. But, you do not need to take every single job.
  • You need a great portfolio.
  • Unfortunately, you may do jobs for little or no pay to build your portfolio and resume.
  • Joining the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild (Local 706 of IATSE) can raise pay.
  • Knowing how to market yourself is essential.
  • Meet people and make a good impression early and often!
  • How Do I Get Makeup and Hair Jobs in California Theme Parks?

    California has a ton of theme parks, like Universal Studios, Disneyland, and Sea World. All these have performers and people dressed as characters who need makeup and hair done. So, makeup and hair artists could find work in those parks.

    Some jobs are seasonal, like over Halloween and Christmas. For example, Sea World's Howl-O-Scream may need makeup artists to create looks for characters. You don't need a license for this type of job, but you must have a portfolio and at least a year of experience in theatrical makeup.

    Disneyland requires cosmetologists to have a range of skills, including wig maintenance. To work at Disneyland in this type of job, you need a California cosmetology license, have worked for at least two years, and have a portfolio.

    Disneyland also looks for cosmetologists to work in their resorts. Disneyland requires resort cosmetologists to have licenses and, ideally, experience with wigs. They may have you work on guests, cast members, or both.

    Resorts may also look for massage therapists, nail technicians, and estheticians. They work with guests, not employees.

    How Can I Become a Beauty Influencer in California?

    Becoming an influencer is the same in every state. It requires a lot of independent work, the ability to take rejection, and time.

    Influencer MarketingHub specializes in, well, influencer marketing! They recommend you become adept at marketing. This requires specific marketing skills for beauty professionals. You also need a lot of patience and willingness to work your way from the bottom.

    Following some fabulous influencers can help you get inspiration.

    California Cosmetology Career Salary and Outlook

    Everyone’s got to pay the bills, especially in a high cost-of-living state like California. Here’s how to think about a beauty career from an earnings perspective.

    How Much Money Can I Make as a Beauty Professional in California?

    You can make money working in the California beauty industry. However, the state costs 1.5 times more to live in than average.

    For example, California cosmetologists make more than the average cosmetologist in the country. But they don't make 1.5 times more on average.

    But California is a HUGE state, which means where you live matters. For example, Fresno is actually below the national average cost. Meanwhile, San Francisco is about 1.8 times costlier than average.

    Though the pay may also differ, you could stretch your dollar more if you live in a city with a lower cost of living.

    Here are salaries for common beauty careers in the state vs. throughout the country as of 2021.

    Career Average Salary in California Average Salary in the U.S.
    Barber $43,840 $35,700
    Esthetician (Includes Medical Esthetician and Electrologist) $44,830 $41,700
    Hairdresser, Hairstylist, and Cosmetologist (Includes Makeup Artists and Hair Braiders) $38,790 $35,990
    Makeup Artist, Theatrical and Performance* $136,340 $124,380
    Massage Therapist $53,950 $49,260
    Nail Technician $32,420 $30,480
    Permanent Makeup $53,846 (Los Angeles) $55,093
    Salon Management $41,635 (Los Angeles) $39,182
    Shampooer $29,790 $25,160

    Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PMU Hub, and ZipRecruiter (2022)

    *Doesn't include self-employed artist pay, generally less than half this amount.

    How Does California Cosmetology Pay Stack Up Against Cost of Living?

    Here's a comparison of the top 10 highest-paying cities and the costs of living in California. For simplicity's sake, this only covers hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists.

    The cost of living is for one person, inclusive of rent:

    City Region Approximate Median Monthly Pay Monthly Cost of Living
    Chico Northern $2,950 $2,049
    Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Southern $2,950 $2,789
    Santa Rosa Northern $2,910 $2,786
    San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Northern $2,900 $3,358
    San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara Northern $2,530 $2,696
    Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Southern $2,520 $2,327
    Salinas Northern $2,500 $2,022
    Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura Southern $2,500 $2,605
    Napa Northern $2,490 $3,166
    Vallejo-Fairfield Northern $2,500 $2,318

    Salary information from O*Net. Living cost information from LivingCost.org (2022).

    You may earn more money in NorCal in hard dollars, but your cost of living may also take up your whole paycheck. So, consider moving to an area outside the cities and commuting in. Or, you could both work and live in a nonmetropolitan area to get more bang for your buck.

    Are Cosmetology Jobs Growing in California?

    All cosmetology jobs should grow in California. But they're growing most slowly than average.

    Don't fret! These job growth numbers don't include regular turnover from people leaving jobs for things like taking a career break, retirement, or moving out of state. It only counts newly added positions.

    Career California Projected Job Growth, 2020-2030 National Projected Job Growth, 2020-2030
    Barber +50% +18%
    Esthetician (Includes Medical Esthetician and Electrologist) +47% +29%
    Hairdresser, Hairstylist, and Cosmetologist (Includes Makeup Artists and Hair Braiders) +51% +19%
    Makeup Artist, Theatrical and Performance* Unavailable +37%
    Massage Therapist +56% +32%
    Nail Technician +71% +33%
    Shampooer Unavailable +30%

    Growth information from CareerOneStop (2022)

    Is it Hard to Get a Beauty Job in California?

    All beauty areas are growing in California, though some jobs are harder to get than others. You need an awesome portfolio, interview plan, and resume to increase your chances.

    California Cosmetology Work, Life, and Community

    Being a cosmetologist in California is about way more than the work. You should enjoy yourself and consider using your skills to give back to your community.

    What is Working in the California Beauty Industry Like?

    Wondering what it's like to actually work in the California beauty industry? Find some details here!

    California is the 14th most stressed out state. But it's the 21st for work-related stress.

    That said, stress is different for each person, so self-care is important.

    Is Working in Beauty Different in Northern California and Southern California?

    California is the third largest state, and the north and south are distinct. This means they have unique beauty needs.

    If you're considering moving to California and don’t know it well already, you may not know where the line between the two is. While people might argue about the exact division, generally speaking, Northern California includes Monterey and Big Sur on the coast to Fresno or just above Fresno more inland, and Southern California is below that.

    There's huge variability within NorCal and SoCal, but to generalize again, NorCal can get cold enough for winter coats, while SoCal is warmer, so most residents can wear summer clothes year-round. These differences in climate might mean that different services are more popular in different parts of the state. For example, SoCal customers may be more likely to want esthetics services to repair sun damage.

    There are also some cultural differences that drive customer desires. SoCal residents may be more likely to want a glam, red-carpet evening look than (generally) more low-key, understated NorCal. This means cosmetologists, makeup artists, or nail techs may need different sets of skills to cater to clients.

    If you want to work in corporate beauty for a large company, Los Angeles—in SoCal—is currently the place to be.

    How Can Cosmetologists Give Back to Their Communities in California?

    Want to hear something that's kind of a bummer? California ranks 39th in charitable giving—and 50th in volunteerism.

    Yep, Californians are the least likely to volunteer their time to charities out of all 50 states. If you want to help fix that, you can use your beauty skills!

    One way is to help the homeless. California comes in third for this issue--0.41% of residents are experiencing homelessness. Only New York (0.47%) and Hawaii (0.46%) have higher percentages.

    There's no magic cure for the problem. But cosmetologists, as an example, can help in small ways—for instance, by grooming people about to go on job interviews who may not otherwise be able to afford professional beauty services.

    You could also volunteer with Beauty Bus, which provides services to ill or older adults.

    A similar program is Look Good Feel Better. It offers beauty education to people undergoing cancer treatments.

    Finally, the state has the largest LGBT population in the country, with 9.1% identifying as such. Nationwide, 7.9% are members of this community. This means you need to know how to best work with the LGBTQ+ community to succeed in the California beauty biz. If you don't, you could find yourself in legal trouble or with a smaller clientele than you could have!

    Resources for the Beauty Industry in California

    Here are some more resources about the California cosmetology industry.

    Best Cosmetology Schools in California
    List of the top cosmetology schools in California based on Beauty Schools Directory staff research

    Cosmetology State Licensing Requirements FAQs
    General information about cosmetology licensure nationwide

    Make-up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild (I.A.T.S.E. Local 706)
    Union for makeup and hair stylists in film, TV, and theatre

    Professional Beauty Foundation
    Group offering support, advocacy, and other programs

    Resources and Scholarships for First-Generation Students
    Help for first-generation students regarding cosmetology and college programs

    Toxic Cosmetics - Ingredients and Contaminants to Avoid
    California has strict toxic ingredients laws. This may help California cosmetologists understand what to look for when evaluating cosmetics.

    You can also jump up to our What Beauty Jobs Do I Need Licenses for In California? section for details about each beauty license in the state.

    California Licensing Board