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Cosmetology Careers

The near-endless number of ways to improve, enhance, correct, beautify, pamper and perfect have allowed the salon industry to thrive. Find out how you can become a cosmetologist today!

A Career in Cosmetology

The global beauty industry is worth an estimated $382 billion a year – and it just keeps growing at a breakneck pace. For the professionals whose business is beauty, this spells opportunity. Hair, nails, makeup, and skincare – the business of cosmetology has never been hotter. Beauty may be only skin-deep, but it’s anything but trivial.

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Although cosmetologists primarily work as hairdressers and stylists, they truly are experts in all things beauty. As the broadest and most all-encompassing profession in the salon industry, training in the art and science of cosmetology involves becoming an expert in the health and beautification of skin, hair, and nails. But it doesn’t end there.

Preparing for a career in cosmetology also involves becoming familiar with therapeutic treatments like massage, learning advanced hygiene practices, and developing the business management skills required to work as an independent stylist.

The Broad Range of Cosmetological Skills

Cosmetologists are aficionados of style and connoisseurs of the same products and services they offer their clients. Whether providing consultations to help clients decide on a hairstyle and color, giving facials and scalp treatments, or helping clients achieve perfectly sculpted brows, the services cosmetologists provide are always highly personalized and focused on the client.

Working as an expert stylist is all about understanding the wants and needs of each client, while also recognizing the colors, tones, and styles that best suit them. The best cosmetologists inspire trust, and demonstrate the kind of interpersonal skills, tact, and charm that allow them to retain loyal clients for the long-term.

Cosmetologists may choose to work exclusively as hairdressers, or they may provide a host of salon services to the clients they serve, moving seamlessly from hairstyling to skincare and waxing to makeup and nail care treatments. They may work exclusively in a salon setting, or they may be found on movie sets, live theater and dance productions, and in many other areas of the arts and entertainment industry. They may travel with celebrity clients or work for fashion photographers and have their work showcased in magazines. The ability to travel in this profession can lead to opportunities that are both lucrative and exciting.

Cosmetologists are naturally inclined to stay current on the latest trends and techniques simply out of a love for fashion. Being in the know also means keeping a competitive edge in the industry; so many cosmetologists attend classes, seminars, trade conventions and runway shows throughout their careers to stay on top of the latest in fashion and hairstyling techniques.

Areas of Specialization

Though cosmetologists are the go-to experts for all things related to hair health, coloring, cutting and style, other services they offer may differ since many choose to focus on one or more additional area of specialization:


  • Shaping, trimming, plucking, and coloring eyebrows
  • Removing facial hair (waxing, depilatories, electrolysis, threading)
  • Cutting, straightening, and styling hair
  • Applying chemical straighteners and relaxers
  • Styling hair for formal events and settings
  • Applying hair extensions
  • Wig fitting
  • Scalp massages and treatments


  • Cleaning and trimming the fingernails, toenails, and cuticles
  • Applying cuticle treatments
  • Filing and buffing nails
  • Applying artificial/acrylic nails and nail tips
  • Polishing nails and applying nail art


  • Applying masks and other topical beauty treatments
  • Exfoliating the skin and applying moisturizers
  • Applying makeup and performing makeovers
  • Giving makeup demonstrations and lessons
  • Consulting clients on skincare products and routines

General Duties

  • Cleaning and sterilizing beauty instruments
  • Maintaining beauty equipment and ensuring its effective operation
  • Answering the phones and booking appointments
  • Keeping client records
  • Ordering beauty products
  • Marketing their business or salon
  • Providing consultation services

A typical day in the life of a cosmetologist may include:

  • Reviewing the appointment schedule and confirming appointments for the day
  • Prepping their workstation and ensuring their station is organized, clean, and well-stocked
  • Cleaning, sanitizing, and checking the integrity and condition of their tools and equipment
  • Performing client consultations regarding hair, nail, and makeup services
  • Performing beauty services
  • Building their referral business through client incentives
  • Marketing and advertising activities

Education, Training, and State Licensing Requirements

Regardless of where in the US a cosmetologist may practice, they are legally required to be state-licensed. Although state licensing laws vary, individuals with aspirations of becoming a cosmetologist should expect to complete a program through a state-approved cosmetology school and pass both written and practical exams.

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The majority of cosmetology schools allow students to achieve a certificate or diploma. On average, cosmetology diploma or certificate programs take between 9 and 15 months to complete. It is typical for cosmetology programs to offer flexible scheduling, including nighttime, weekend, and part-time courses.

In addition to courses aimed specifically at the care and treatment of hair, skin, and nails, students of cosmetology can expect to take classes in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, infection control and safety practices.

While diploma and certificate programs include all the training required to become licensed in the area of cosmetology, associate’s degree programs are more comprehensive, and often allow graduates to sit for a full range of license examinations in more advanced areas like electrology and esthetics. Pursuing an education beyond a certificate or diploma program is becoming common in this industry, thanks to a host of degree options in such areas as salon and spa management and cosmetology instruction.

Though a cosmetologist license permits practitioners to perform basic skin and nail care services, most states have separate licenses—and therefore separate requirements—for different areas of the health and beauty industry. For example, performing the more advanced and invasive skincare services would require an esthetician license, while providing advanced nail care services may require a nail technician license. California, for example, has separate state licenses and different education, training, and apprenticeship requirements for cosmetologists, barbers, nail technicians, estheticians, electrologists, and massage therapists.

The roles and allowable services that salon professionals provide may vary according to the jurisdiction in which they are employed.

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