Cosmetology is the study and practice of professional care of the hair, nails, and skin. This means that courses within a comprehensive cosmetology program will cover:
- Hair styling
- Hair cutting, trimming, shaving
- Chemical hair treatments
- Waving, coloring, braiding and straightening
- Hair coloring, highlighting
- Skincare and makeup techniques
- Manicures, pedicures, nail art
Structure of Cosmetology Training Programs
A cosmetology program is often structured as a certificate or diploma program or as an associate degree program (Associate in Science, Associate in Applied Science, or an Associate in Occupational Science). An associate degree program provides more extensive study in business, management, and marketing and is the most comprehensive of the cosmetology programs. Associate degree programs also prepare students to seek careers as cosmetology instructors, salon managers, and business owners. Certificate or diploma programs generally last between 12 and 18 months, while as associate degree program generally takes about two years.
Beyond a comprehensive cosmetology program, individuals with their sights set on a specific area of cosmetology, such as nail care or makeup artistry, may choose to complete a more specific program that is focused on their specialization of choice. These programs are generally much shorter in duration than full cosmetology programs and therefore cost significantly less.
Cosmetology Certificate and Diploma Programs
A full cosmetology certificate or diploma program will cover all major areas of cosmetology, including hair, makeup, nails and skincare. Students in a cosmetology program can expect to receive basic and advanced training in everything from cutting and coloring to special effects makeup and the latest trends in nail art and design.
Most programs feature full, student salons through which students can practice their budding skills. Graduates of cosmetology programs, provided they are approved by their state board of cosmetology, are prepared to enter the workforce as hairstylists, color specialists, manicurists, and makeup artists, just to name a few.
Licensed graduates may find plentiful career opportunities in traditional, full-service salons, nail salons, hair salons, spas, resorts, and health clubs, as well as in the theater, print, fashion, and film industries.
A cosmetology program allows students to:
- Achieve effective communication skills and project a positive attitude and a sense of personal integrity
- Understand and respect the need to deliver high-quality services
- Perform the basic skills of hairstyling, tinting, chemical reformation, bleaching, scalp and hair conditioning, manicures, pedicures, facials, and artificial nail extensions
- Achieve the basic skills to determine the proper makeup, hairstyle, and hair color for a client’s best overall look
- Apply the theory and technical education they achieved as to make sound judgments, decisions, and procedures
- Understand the latest trends, fashions, and methods in cosmetology
Education and training in a cosmetology program may be presented to students through lectures, demonstrations, and student participation. Students also often use a comprehensive library of references in a cosmetology program, including books, DVDs, and audio CDs to supplement their training.
Some programs allow students to participate in externships once they have completed a specific percentage of their program.
Classroom instruction in cosmetology theory may include:
- State laws and regulations
- First aid
- Professional ethics
- Tools, materials, and implements
- Safety and sanitation
- Hair analysis
- Client consultation
- Record keeping
Coursework in sterilization, sanitation, and bacteriology may include chemical agents, bacterial growth, and infections and infection control. Cosmetology practice curriculum often includes:
- Principles and techniques of treatments
- Disorders of the hair and scalp
- Sectioning, wrapping, processing, curling, and relaxing
- Wet styling, blow drying, and waving
- Wigs and hairpieces
- Temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent hair color
- Special effects and corrective techniques
- Sectioning, removing hair with scissors, clippers, shears, and razors
- Facial treatments, cosmetic applications
- Removal of unwanted hair
- Lash/brow tinting
- Manicuring, pedicuring, and advanced nail techniques
- Hand, foot, and arm massaging
- Salon business fundamentals (business management, business plans, laws, salon operations, human relations, insurance, etc.)
Cosmetology Associate Degree Programs
An associate degree in cosmetology allows students to receive additional study in management skills, thereby allowing them to be prepared for leadership and ownership roles. Associate degrees are generally two years in duration and include at least 60 units.
Customer service is often strongly emphasized in associate degree programs. This means that coursework in psychology, human relations, and communication skills is commonplace.
Other coursework indicative of an associate degree program includes:
- Quantitative literacy
- Small business operations
- Computers and computer software
- Principles of management
- Human resource management
Advanced Programs in Cosmetology
Although bachelor and master degree programs in cosmetology are not readily available, many cosmetologists with aspirations of earning advanced degrees in this field often pursue bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees in areas such as salon and spa management and health and beauty management.
A number of beauty schools throughout the U.S. also offer advanced programs for licensed cosmetologists who want to complete extensive, hands-on study in the presence of industry leaders. Although these programs generally do not result in a degree, they often serve as valuable resume builders.
Points to Remember Before Enrolling in a Cosmetology Program
Individuals with aspirations of becoming cosmetologists should ensure their state’s Board of Cosmetology recognizes the program they choose. Many state boards of cosmetology only recognize programs that are accredited by specific recognized accrediting bodies, such as:
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
- Accrediting Council for Continued Education & Training (ACCET)
- American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- The National Accrediting Commission for Cosmetology Arts & Sciences (NACCAS)
The largest accrediting body for cosmetology programs in the U.S. is the NACCAS, which currently accredits more than 1,500 institutions related to the cosmetology arts and sciences.
A state-board approved program in cosmetology will meet the practice hour requirements for state licensure. Because these requirements vary from one state to the next, it is also important for individuals to ensure that the program they choose meets these requirements.