Cosmetologists earned a median of $26,090 per year ($12.54 per hour) as of 2019. The lower-paid cosmetologists (in the 10th percentile) earned an average annual salary of $18,430, while higher-paid cosmetologists (in the 90th percentile) made an average annual salary of $51,870.
Cosmetologist salary varies by state, city, and employer. Work environments, full- versus part-time jobs, and the days and times worked can also affect pay.
The field is expected to shrink by 2% between 2019 and 2029, but don't panic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that advanced hair treatments, like chemical treatments, have risen in demand over the last several years. This increase is expected to continue. If you want to increase your employment chances, make sure to get training in those types of skills.
Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists most commonly work in personal care services (salons, spas, etc.), though nearly as many are self-employed. Only 8% work in retail locations, like makeup shops.
While many cosmetologists work full time, some opt to work part-time. Evening and weekend work is common, as those are often the busiest times.
Read on for detailed information about cosmetologist salary and job growth by state and some specific metro areas; pay structures; and tips on improving your pay.
Cosmetologist Average Pay by State: At a Glance
Cosmetologist salaries vary by state, county, and city based on factors like cost of living. The number of jobs becoming available in different states also depends on the location's demand for beauty services.
How Much Do Cosmetologists Make in Each State?
|State||2019 Hourly Pay||2019 Salary||2016 - 26 Growth|
|District of Columbia||$20.58||$42,800||12%|
Cosmetologist Salary Near You
Find out more about cosmetologist salaries and job requirements in your area:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Best Cities for Cosmetologist Salaries
The definition of "best" is unique to each person depending on their desired location, proximity to family, salary needs, and so forth. However, below, you can find the top-paying metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas for cosmetologists in the country.
Best Metropolitan Areas for Cosmetologist Salaries
|Metropolitan Area||2019 Hourly Wage||2019 Salary|
|New Bedford, MA||$21.05||$43,790|
|Barnstable Town, MA||$20.64||$42,940|
Mean salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021)
Best Nonmetropolitan Areas for Cosmetologist Salaries
|Nonmetropolitan Area||2019 Hourly Wage||2019 Salary|
|Massachusetts nonmetropolitan area||$20.34||$42,300|
|West Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area||$19.76||$41,100|
|East North Dakota nonmetropolitan area||$19.51||$40,580|
|Western Washington nonmetropolitan area||$18.17||$37,790|
|Southwest Maine nonmetropolitan area||$17.73||$36,890|
How Are Cosmetologists Paid?
Cosmetologists are paid differently based on whether they're employed by an outside company or self-employed.
If you work for an employer, there are four common ways you could be paid:
For hourly or salaried work, you'll generally be paid regardless of the number of clients you see, as the salon is responsible for bringing in customers. The upside to both of these is that your paychecks should be predictable, and you don't need to do a ton of self-promotion. On the flip side, since you have little control over your clients, you may find yourself working outside your comfort zone and, with hourly pay, your hours can always be cut if the company wants to do so.
Commission-based work generally involves less steady pay and is entirely built on your ability to bring in clients and sell products. In this structure, you typically pay the salon part of your commissions to use their space. The positive side of this is you have a lot of control over when and with whom you work, and you may be able to set your own rates. The downside is if you're new to the game, you may not have a client base built and, no matter where you are in your career, you need to constantly be updating your portfolio and making connections.
Pay based on performance isn't hugely common, but it involves a mixture of salaried or hourly work and commission. The more hands-on work you do, the higher your pay is. The upside is you have guaranteed pay, but the downside is you need to advertise yourself to bring in the highest possible pay.
If you're self-employed—which can involve those paid on commission above, but also freelance or specialized cosmetologists—you must consider a lot of things. Like commission and performance-based pay, you need to advertise yourself; if you don't work for a salon, you don't have much of a chance of a built-in customer base. You have total control over your hours and rates, bearing in mind the norms in your area and customer needs. The largest challenges for many include not consistently having work and figuring out how to pay taxes appropriately.
When work is slow, you may need to get creative and bring in money by doing things like hosting online tutorials or improving your marketing strategies.
If you find yourself in need of additional pay if you're self-employed, you can certainly consider side hustles both in and out of beauty, like creating your own products, blogging, or creating online tutorials.
All pay structures usually can be supplemented with tips from clients.
How Are Performing Arts Cosmetologists Paid?
It's worth mentioning that those who work in the performing arts—both live and filmed work—aren't called "cosmetologists." Instead, they're typically called hair or makeup artists or stylists.
Performing arts stylists generally need to undergo additional training in subjects like prosthetics and fantasy makeup. It may be worth investigating an associate or bachelor's degree in theatre or film—though this isn't strictly necessary, especially with ample training and a solid portfolio.
This training can cost money, but with a lot of skill and a bit of luck, it can pay off in the long run: the mean pay for theatrical and performance makeup artists was $81,600 per year ($39.23 per hour). The field is expected to grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029—though that's only based on a few states' data, and, as you might imagine, the job is more in-demand in certain places than others.
Established performing arts makeup artists and hairstylists are generally represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), even if they work in film. IATSE helps ensure reasonable pay (including pay for canceled gigs) and work hours, with overtime pay when needed. As most of these workers are freelancers, IATSE also helps them establish a retirement plan and obtain health insurance.
If IATSE doesn't represent you, you may be paid by the gig (e.g., a set total for the run of a play). This is particularly true if you're just starting out and building a portfolio via community theatre. Hourly (and occasionally salaried) pay may be possible if you're working for a local professional theatre or film company.
Performing arts cosmetology pay doesn't involve tips, though if you build a good relationship with those involved, you could have great connections for future work—both in the arts and for individual clients, depending on the types of work you do.
How to Improve Your Cosmetologist Salary
If you want to grow your cosmetology pay, you should pursue continuing education, continue building your portfolio, and look for unique opportunities to expand and show off your skills. You can also consider earning additional endorsements and licenses.
Continuing education is required in many states, but you aren't limited to the number of hours or types of courses mandated. If you want to learn a new skill, chances are you can find a class to take. However, you may need to travel to a conference or a large city if the skill is highly specialized or your area is tiny and doesn't have many salons or visiting experts.
You could also look for a new job. No matter what kind of jobs you're going for, you need to keep your portfolio up to date and ensure your resume is up to snuff.
If you offer specialty services, be sure to rent a booth at any relevant event you can. Wedding conventions may be especially important for this, as many brides are there to find their perfect stylist. If you create your own beauty products, any event showcasing local businesses or artists may also be great resources as well—even farmers' markets.
Additional endorsements and licenses may also be worth investigating, particularly if you can find a crossover program.
For instance, having a cosmetology license could shorten your required hours for earning your barber license. Barbers make a bit more money and have significantly higher anticipated job growth than cosmetologists. Working as a barber doesn't mean you can't also perform cosmetology services.
You could also look into becoming an esthetician in addition to being a cosmetologist, which could allow you to perform a ton of additional services and potentially earn more money. The field is expected to grow by a whopping 17% in the upcoming years.