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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 is hot right now. Beauty may be only skin-deep, but it’s anything but trivial.

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Cosmetologists are experts in all things beauty. These beauty specialists are well known for their hair and makeup artistry, and are also skilled in improving the health and beauty of skin and nails. Cosmetology is the broadest and most encompassing of all salon professions, as it involves working with makeup, skin, hair, and nails.

It is also common for cosmetologists to be experts in salon and spa management, and possess advanced skills in therapeutic treatments, massage, and hygiene practices.

The Broad Range of Cosmetological Skills

Cosmetologists are style mavens and connoisseurs of the same products and services they offer their clients. From consulting with clients regarding the best hairstyle or hair color to manicuring nails, applying makeup, and giving facials and scalp treatments, cosmetologists focus their services on personalized care and services. Their work involves possessing an excellent understanding of their clients’ wants and needs, while recognizing the colors, tones, and styles that best suit them. Cosmetologists inspire trust from their clients, and their excellent interpersonal skills, tact, and charm allow them to retain clients for the long-term.

Cosmetologists may specialize in a specific area of beauty and personal care, such as hair, nails, or makeup, or they may move seamlessly from one area to the next throughout the day, providing a host of services to the clients they serve. They may work exclusively in a salon setting, or they may be found on movie, television, and commercial sets or in live theater, ballet, dance, and musical settings. They may travel with celebrity clients or work for fashion photographers or fashion 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 shows and even fashion shows throughout their careers to stay on top of the latest styles and techniques.

Areas of Specialization

The services cosmetologists provide may be vastly different, particularly when considering that these beauty professionals often choose to focus on one or more areas 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 cosmetologists practice, they must be state-licensed. Although state licensing laws vary, individuals with aspirations of becoming a cosmetologist should expect to complete a state-approved cosmetology school, pass one or more written state tests, and complete some type of apprenticeship.

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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/or nails, students of cosmetology programs can expect to take classes in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, infection control and safety.

While diploma and certificate programs often focus on just one area of cosmetology, associate and bachelor degree programs in cosmetology are more comprehensive, and often allow graduates to sit for a full range of license examinations for additional personal care services like hair design, electrology and esthetics. Pursuing education beyond a certificate or diploma program is commonplace in this industry, as there is also a host of associate and bachelor degree programs in such areas as salon and spa management or cosmetology instruction.

Most states have separate licenses—and therefore separate requirements—for different areas of cosmetology. For example, performing skincare services may require an esthetician license, while providing manicure and other nail 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. Some duties, such as hair shampooing, for example, may not require a state license, while other duties like hair coloring or nail manicuring do require a state license.

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