How to Become a Cosmetologist in California

To become a part of California’s $5.4 billion-a-year salon industry, you must first meet the licensing requirements of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology:

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Complete an Approved Program in Cosmetology
Complete the Cosmetologist Examination Application
Successfully Complete the BBC Written and Practical Examinations
Exploring your Career Options as a Cosmetologist in California

California is the epicenter of the beauty industry in the U.S. The West Coast has always been a place where fashion trends are born, beauty icons are made, and a sense of individual style is always in vogue. It’s no wonder, then, that some of the world’s most renowned salons are located here.

From Mèche Salon in exclusive Beverly Hills and John Frieda Salon in LA, to Revamp in San Francisco and Kimble Hair Studio in West Hollywood, California’s salon industry is a dynamic and exciting place to express your creativity as a stylist.

Whether you want to work as a salon cosmetologist for one of the State’s 9,000 salon establishments or earn your living as a stylist and makeup artist in California’s powerful film, theater, or fashion industries, your options are diverse and abundant.



Step 1. Complete an Approved Program in Cosmetology

Becoming a cosmetologist in California starts with completing a formal training program from a cosmetology school that has been approved by the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE). You can view a current list of approved cosmetology schools here.

Cosmetologist schools approved by the BPPE all include the 1,600 hours of training required to qualify for a cosmetology license in California.

Although it is the responsibility of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to regulate and license cosmetologists, it is the job of the BPPE to ensure that all approved cosmetology schools meet the minimum requirements for licensure in California.

A cosmetologist program may result in a certificate/diploma or an associate degree, and it may be offered through a junior college, vocational school, or dedicated beauty school. Although an associate degree is not required for licensure, many students choose to complete a two-year degree program because it prepares them to seek a bachelor’s degree in any number of areas in the future, such as spa and salon management or even hospitality management.

A cosmetology license in California allows you to practice any of the following:

  • Hair dressing, curling, coloring, waving, etc.
  • Massaging the neck, arms, scalp, face, or the upper part of body
  • Using cosmetic preparations, tonics, creams, lotions, or antiseptics to beautify
  • Using hair through the use of tweezers, depilatories, and chemicals
  • Cutting, trimming, coloring, cleansing, polishing, and manicuring the nails
  • Giving facials, applying makeup, and giving skincare

Apprenticeship Route to Licensure

California also recognizes an apprenticeship for cosmetology licensure. The California Apprenticeship Program, which was approved by the Department of Labor Relations, allows an apprentice (trainee) to make money while studying to become a cosmetologist under the direct guidance of a licensed cosmetologist. To be eligible for a cosmetologist license in California through apprenticeship, you must enter into an indenture agreement with a salon owner, the trainer, and the program sponsor.

Cosmetology apprenticeships in California are full-time, two-year programs (3,200 hours), and you must receive some supplemental instruction (at least 220 hours) in a classroom. To qualify for an apprenticeship, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have completed the 10th grade (or its equivalency)
  • Possess a valid social security number
  • Have contacted a program sponsor listed on the Approved Apprenticeship Program Sponsors list
  • Have a licensed establishment and a licensed trainer who it willing to train you
  • Complete a 39-hour pre-apprenticeship program from an approved program sponsor

You cannot begin working as a cosmetology apprentice until you have registered with the California Apprenticeship Program and the BBC has issued you an apprenticeship license. You can contact the BBC at 916-574-7570 with any questions regarding a cosmetology apprenticeship.



Step 2. Complete the Cosmetologist Examination Application

After successfully completing either a formal cosmetology program or an apprenticeship program, you must complete the Cosmetologist Examination Application (You may also apply online here.) and submit it, along with the application for examination and initial license fee of $125, to the BBC.

You must be at least 17 years old and have completed the 10th graduate in a public school (or its equivalency) to be eligible to take the BBC exams.

You should allow up to 12 weeks after submitting your application for the Broad to process your application and send you an exam scheduling letter.

If you have questions regarding the status of your application, you may email the Board at [email protected].



Step 3. Successfully Complete the BBC Written and Practical Examinations

The BBC examination actually consists of two parts: a written and practical examination. The BBC utilizes the National Interstate Council of Board of Cosmetology’s (NIC) written and practical examinations. You can expect to be scheduled to take the practical and the written examinations on the same day.

There are two, permanent testing sites for the cosmetology practical examination: Northern California (Fairfield) and Southern California (Glendale). The written examination is administered through PSI, which has a number of testing sites in California, including (but not limited to) the following cities:

  • Anaheim
  • Bakersfield
  • Burbank
  • Fresno
  • Laguna Hills
  • Riverside
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Ventura

The California cosmetology examinations are available in English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The written examination consists of 100 test questions, and you are allowed 120 minutes to complete it. The practical examination lasts about 4 hours.

You can read more about the practical examination by reading the NIC Practical Exam Candidate Information Bulletin and the written examination by reading the NIC Written Exam Candidate Information Bulletin.

Upon passing both examinations you will be issued your California cosmetology license.



Step 4. Exploring your Career Options as a Cosmetologist in California

You must renew your cosmetology license in California biennially in odd-numbered years. The cost of renewal is $50. You can renew your cosmetology license through the Department of Consumer Affairs BreEZe online system.

Although there are no continuing education requirements to keep your cosmetology license current in California, it may be quite beneficial to pursue additional training in specialized areas to keep your skills and knowledge current in this swiftly changing industry.

Licensing requirements in these areas involve the specified number of training hours:

  • Estheticians: 600 hours
  • Manicurists: 400 hours
  • Electrologists: 600 hours

California may be a great state in which to open up your own salon; therefore, pursuing study in areas such as business management and marketing may be instrumental in helping you succeed in your future business endeavors.

California has a number of great resources for cosmetologists through the California Cosmetology Association.

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