Licensing Requirements for Cosmetology

To earn a new cosmetology license, you must prove you’re ready to enter the field as a working professional.

Requirements can vary from state to state, sometimes by a lot. But all states require that cosmetologists finish approved training through a school (or in some states, through an apprenticeship) and pass one or more tests.

Read on to learn about common cosmetology license requirements in the United States.

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What Are the Requirements for Getting a Cosmetology License?

Typical cosmetology licensure involves completing training hours and at least one exam, as well as submitting an application with a fee to the state. Depending on the state, the training hours may occur in approved school programs or via an apprenticeship.

State requirements can change frequently, so always double check with your state board for specific questions.

Note that not every state refer to the license as “cosmetology.” Cosmetologists can work with hair, skin, and nails, so look for a license letting you do all these in your state.

Cosmetology Training Hour Requirements

Training hours are the amount of time spent in school or an apprenticeship. These include both in-class learning and hands-on experiences. The higher the number of hours required, the longer school may take for students.

The American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS) says 1,400 to 1,600 training hours are the norm. But, again, training hour requirements for cosmetologists vary hugely from state to state.

For states that allow apprenticeships under approved supervisors, these hours must still follow state guidelines. States that allow both apprenticeships and formal school programs as paths to cosmetology licensure will require more training hours under apprenticeships than through an approved cosmetology program for that same state.

Required Cosmetology Exams

You must take at least one test before getting your license. Some states need you to pass two exams. Many states use National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) tests, but other states offer unique exams.

NIC offers three possible types of tests: Written, practical, and written practical.

The NIC written test consists of:

  • Scientific Concepts (30%)
  • Haircare and Services (40%)
  • Skincare and Services (15%)
  • Nail Care and Services (15%)

The timed practical exam covers 10 concepts. You show off your skills using tools on mannequins or models. Plan to bring tools and a mannequin or model.

NIC cosmetology practical exams include:

  • Work Area and Client Preparation and Set Up of Supplies—First client (15 minutes)
  • Thermal Curling (10 minutes)
  • Haircutting (30 minutes)
  • Work Area and New Client Preparation and Set Up of Supplies (Second client 15 minutes)
  • Chemical Waving (20 minutes)
  • Predisposition Test and Strand Test with Simulated Product (10 minutes)
  • Highlighting with Foil, Virgin Application with Colored Simulated Product (15 minutes)
  • Hair Color Retouch with Colored Simulated Product (10 minutes)
  • Virgin Hair Relaxer Application with Colored Simulated Product (Untimed)
  • Blood Exposure Procedure (10 minutes)

The written practical exam is a combination of the tests. This version takes 120 minutes and consists of:

  • Scientific Concepts (20%)
  • Hair Care and Services (45%)
  • Skincare and Services (15%)
  • Nail Care and Services (20%)

The written practical test also covers bloodborne pathogens.

The cost of the test varies by state.

Apprenticeship Training for Licensure

Some states allow you to complete an apprenticeship program as an alternative to going to school. An apprenticeship involves working in the field in a spa, salon, or similar setting under the supervision of a qualified professional. Apprenticeships also usually get paid for their work, though the wage will naturally be less than what a licensed cosmetologist will make. The supervising professional will be specifically certified or licensed to supervise and mentor you, which means you will learn on the job—not on mannequins or models in a classroom, but in an actual working facility, watching and practicing on real clients.

The tradeoff is that apprenticeships may take much longer to complete. States that allow apprenticeship hours often require you to complete far more of them than traditional school hours, often double the number of hours.

Cosmetology Specializations and Crossover Programs

Regardless of state, your cosmetology program should teach the basics of hair, skin, nails, and makeup. But you can opt to specialize further with more training, some of which can culminate in additional optional certifications if you so choose.

Schools may offer specialty tracks as part of a primary cosmetology program. Others might need you to complete the program, then pursue additional hours in your specialty through an advanced curriculum or continuing education program.

A few common specialties people choose are:

Barbering will require licensure, while hair braiding and even permanent makeup may or may not, depending on your state.

Master Cosmetologist

Some states, though not many, offer master cosmetologist licenses. These licenses require more education and, often, extra exams. Before going after this license, you need work experience.

Like other credentials, having this advanced designation may improve your employability and salary prospects.

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Applying for Your Cosmetology License

Your state’s licensing body provides cosmetology license application instructions. License applications are often completed online. You must provide proof of identity, education, and criminal background, among other things.

Exam and licensure applications aren’t free. You pay when applying for your test and license, sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously. Costs vary by state.

If you add more licenses or credentials, you may have to pay fees for those.

Who Sets Cosmetology Licensing Requirements?

State licensing boards create and enforce cosmetology laws and rules.

Some states have specific cosmetology departments. Others have this field under their department of labor or health.

Maintaining Your License

A role as a cosmetologist requires maintaining your license throughout your career. Timelines and continuing education requirements vary by state.

Continuing education units (CEUs) are training hours to update skills and knowledge. Some states need zero extra education, while others mandate several hours. Regardless, CEUs can help build your skillset and stay on top of trends.

There are often renewal fees, and these can also vary. You can find local licensing fees on your specific state page.

Cosmetology Certification vs. Licensure

Certification is different from licensure. You may need a cosmetology license before getting certifications for special skills.

Some cosmetologists pursue certifications to stand out from the competition. In other cases, employers need cosmetologists to become certified in particular procedures:

  • Talk to clients, assess their needs, make suggestions, and guide them through options.
  • Meet safety, sanitization, and hygiene standards.
  • Remove and apply makeup, eyelashes, and, perhaps, prosthetics.
  • Choose the correct cosmetics, tools, and other supplies, which you take care of.
  • Make judgments about the appropriate makeup to use based on each client.
  • Collaborate with skin, nail, and hair experts working on the same client or clients.

One internationally recognized example of a cosmetology certification is granted by CIDESCO.

Cosmetology Licensing Requirements by State

State Cosmetology Training Continuing Education Per Renewal Period
Alabama 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Alaska 1,650 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Arizona 1,600 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Arkansas 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
California 1,000 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Colorado 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Connecticut 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Delaware 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Florida 1,200 hours 10 hours every 2 years
Georgia 1,500 hours 5 hours every 2 years
Hawaii 1,800 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Idaho 1,600 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Illinois 1,500 hours 14 hours every 2 years
Indiana 1,500 hours 0 hours every 4 years
Iowa 2,100 hours 6 hours every 2 years
Kansas 1,500 hours Passing exam scores every 2 years
Kentucky 1,500 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Louisiana 1,500 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Maine 1,500 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Maryland 1,500 hours 6 hours every 2 years
Massachusetts 1,000 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Michigan 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Minnesota 1,550 hours 8 hours every 3 years
Mississippi 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Missouri 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Montana 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Nebraska 1,800 hours 8 hours every 2 years
Nevada 1,600 hours 0 hours every 2 or 4 years
New Hampshire 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
New Jersey 1,200 hours 0 hours every 2 years
New Mexico 1,600 hours 0 hours every 2 years
New York 1,000 hours 0 hours every 4 years
North Carolina 1,500 hours 8 hours every 1 year
North Dakota 1,500 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Ohio 1,500 hours 4 hours every 2 years
Oklahoma 1,500 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Oregon 1,835 hours (covers 3 separate licenses adding up to cosmetology) 0 hours every 2 years
Pennsylvania 1,250 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Rhode Island 1,200 hours 0 hours every 2 years
South Carolina 1,500 hours 4 hours every 2 years
South Dakota 1,500 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Tennessee 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Texas 1,000 hours 4 hours every 2 years
Utah 1,600 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Vermont 1,000 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Virginia 1,500 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Washington 1,600 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Washington D.C. 1,500 hours 6 hours every 2 years
West Virginia 1,800 hours 0 hours every 1 year
Wisconsin 1,550 hours 0 hours every 2 years
Wyoming 1,600 hours 0 hours every 2 years

Cosmetology Schools in Your State

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