Cosmetologist State Licensing Requirements

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In all states, cosmetology is a regulated profession that requires a license, which is typically issued through each state’s regulatory board. The licensing body for cosmetologists may vary from state to state. For example, in Indiana, the Board of Cosmetology licenses cosmetologists, while in Illinois the licensing body is the Department of Professional Regulation, and in Connecticut it is the Department of Public Health.

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Although specific requirements for licensure vary from one state board to the next, the process and requirements are generally quite similar:

Meeting the Minimum Requirements for a Cosmetology Licensure

All state boards of cosmetology have minimum requirements for licensure, which usually include:

Minimum age requirement: The minimum age for licensure is usually between 16 and 18 years of age.

Education requirements: Before enrolling in a Board-approved cosmetology training program, the majority of states require applicants to possess either a high school diploma or GED, while some states, such as Pennsylvania, require as little as a tenth grade education.

Examination requirements: Cosmetology license examinations may include one or more of the following:

  • Written examination on theory and procedures
  • Practical examination on cosmetology skills
  • Written jurisprudence examination on state regulations

HIV/AIDS and other infectious disease training: Specific training on prevention of transference of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases varies from state to state.

Continuing education requirements: Many U.S. jurisdictions require some type of continuing education to satisfy license renewal requirements.

Completing a Formal, Board-Approved Cosmetology Program

The first step to becoming a licensed cosmetologist always begins with a Board-approved cosmetology education and training program. Cosmetology training programs are designed to meet requirements for state licensure. Each state sets specific requirements for the number of hours of training and coursework required for licensure. In all states this falls within the range of between 1,000 and 2,000 hours of hands-on training coursework related to hair care, skincare, makeup, and nails.

It is also possible to become licensed in specific areas of specialization, such as manicuring or makeup. Practice requirements for licensure in a specific area of cosmetology are a fraction of the total practice hours required for a cosmetology license. For example, nail technician licenses may require as little as 300 practice hours. Some states even have more specialty licenses for cosmetologists. For example, Illinois has a license for hair braiding.

Cosmetology programs may be offered through beauty schools, junior colleges, and vocational schools. Graduates from these programs can earn a certificate, diploma, or an associate degree. Certificate or diploma programs take between 12 and 18 months to complete, while associate degree programs take about two years.

Although earning an associate degree is not a prerequisite for licensure as a cosmetologist, these degree programs tend to offer more advanced courses that cover topics such as business management and marketing to help prepare cosmetologists to work as salon managers or to run their own cosmetology business. For individuals seeking bachelor’s degrees in areas such as salon and spa management, an associate degree is a prerequisite for admission.

Some beauty schools also offer dual licensure programs, which include cosmetology and another related area of study, such as massage therapy, electrology, or skincare (esthetics).

Some states allow individuals to complete an apprenticeship (a paid job under the direction of a licensed cosmetologist) in lieu of a formal cosmetology program. Requirements for apprenticeships vary significantly from one state to the next.

Taking and Passing Board-Required Examinations

All Boards of Cosmetology require that candidates for licensure take and pass a number of examinations after fulfilling training requirements. The type of examination and the number of examinations may differ depending on the type of license being sought; however, most state boards require the successful completion of both a written and a practical (hands-on) examination.

Some states, like Hawaii, require the completion of just a written examination, while other states, like California, require the completion of both a written and practical examination. It is common for examinations to be administered through third-party testing centers.

Many states now require candidates to test through the National-Interstate Council (NIC) of State Boards of Cosmetology. For example, 29 states now utilize the NIC cosmetology written exam, and 14 states utilize the NIC practical exam. The NIC offers licensing examinations in 13 different areas.

Some states also require candidates for cosmetology licenses to successfully complete a written examination focused on state laws and regulations related to the practice of cosmetology.

Maintaining a Cosmetology License

Similar to other licensed professions, cosmetologists must renew their licenses regularly as determined by the Board. To successfully renew a license, cosmetologists must generally show proof of the completion of a minimum number of continuing education hours, although a number of states, such as Massachusetts and Wisconsin, do not require the completion of continuing education hours for license renewal. In Maine, only cosmetology instructors are required to complete continuing education hours, while in Florida, all licensed cosmetologists must complete at least 16 continuing education hours every two years.

Further, a number of states require HIV/AIDS training and/or safety/sanitation training to meet initial licensure or continuing education requirements.

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