How to Become a Hairdresser and Stylist



Hair is important, so it comes as no surprise that the salon hair care market accounts for $64.8 billion in sales in 2013 alone! A woman’s hairstylist is often one of her most beloved confidants, serving as a trusted ally and the only person who understands her personal hair woes.

As Joan Crawford once said, “I think the most important thing a woman can have—next to talent, of course—is her hairdresser.”

Hairstylists, often called hairdressers or stylists, serve as the authority of the haircare services market. Their influence and impact on the industry is undeniable.

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A Day in the Life of a Hairstylist

Hairstylists provide a range of haircare services as part of a routine session, including shampooing, cutting, coloring, styling, and blow-drying. Their daily responsibilities are extensive, and often include the following tasks:

  • Advising clients on their haircare needs
  • Creating hair styles for formal events
  • Analyzing clients’ hair, facial features, and needs, and determining/recommending beauty treatments
  • Styling and dressing hairpieces, extensions, and wigs
  • Maintaining an appointment calendar through scheduling
  • Demonstrating and selling styling products
  • Learning and perfecting new styles and techniques
  • Maintaining and updating client records
  • Shaving and trimming beards and mustaches, and sideburns
  • Waxing eyebrows and facial hair
  • Trimming, cutting, and shaving hair using clippers, scissors, trimmers, and razors
  • Maintaining work stations and sanitizing tools and equipment
  • Applying chemical setting, straightening, or curling solutions
  • Using curlers, rollers, hot irons, and curling irons
  • Applying hair color, dye, and tints
  • Administering therapeutic scalp and hair treatments
  • Performing scalp, neck, and face massages
  • Applying hot towel treatments

Depending on the role hairstylists play in a salon, they may also be responsible for ensuring product inventory is sufficient, ordering new products, stocking products on display shelves, and even doing some marketing for the salon.

Hairdresser Job Duties and Responsibilities

To adequately perform their jobs, hairdressers must:

  • Possess knowledge of principles and processing for providing personal services
  • Have the ability to assess the needs of their clients
  • Meet quality standards for service
  • Possess knowledge of the chemical composition and properties of the substances they use and the chemical processes the substances may undergo (i.e., understanding chemical reactions, production techniques, and disposal methods)

Successful hairdressers must also:

  • Be able to work under pressure
  • Possess excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Be patient
  • Be able to work long hours on their feet
  • Pay attention to small details
  • Listen closely to their clients’ wants and needs
  • Be able to follow instructions
  • Keep up with the latest beauty trends
  • Earn the trust of their clients
  • Closely follow safety, sanitation, and health standards

Specialty hairdressers may include:

  • Hair braiders, who specialize in creating small braids over the entire head
  • Natural hairstylists, who work on ethnic hair without processing and relaxing chemicals
  • Locticians, who prep the hair and scalp for a natural hairstylist and often specializes in dreadlocks

Some states have specific licenses for these hairstylist specialties. For example, Illinois has a state license for hair braiders, while Tennessee licenses natural hairstylists.

Finding a Job Vs. Renting a Chair

Although hairstylists can generally be found working in hair salons, these haircare specialists also often find employment opportunities in day spas, hotels, and resorts.

The first stop in this business usually includes working in a salon, either as an employee or as an independent contractor. Hairdressers working as independent contractors are typically required to rent a chair in the salon for a weekly or monthly fee, while individuals hired by salons are usually paid on a commission basis, earning their salary based on the services they provide and the products they sell.

As their careers progress, it is common for hairstylists to build a strong clientele and then go on to open their own salons.

Hair Stylist Education and Training Requirements

Hairdressers, regardless of the state in which they work, must be licensed in order to practice. In most cases, stylists hold a full cosmetology license, however, some states require a specific license for hairdressers and hair designers. For example, Connecticut specifically license hairdressers, while Kentucky require hairdressers to carry a general cosmetology license.

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State boards of cosmetology require a minimum number of practice hours to be eligible for licensure, and candidates for licensure must also pass a state hairstyling examination. State licensing examinations generally include both a practical and written portion.

As such, individuals interested in learning how to become a hairstylist may pursue a dedicated hairstylist program, or they may complete a comprehensive cosmetology program that also allows them to prepare for licensure in such areas as massage therapy, skincare, and/or makeup.

Dedicated hairdresser programs through beauty schools are often completed in less than a year, while cosmetology programs generally take longer, with some programs resulting in an associate degree.

Coursework in a hairdresser program often includes study in:

  • Shampoo chemistry
  • Hair and scalp analysis
  • Scalp disorders and diseases
  • Shampooing procedures and techniques
  • Treatments of the hair and scalp
  • Color theory, color applications and techniques
  • Special effects techniques
  • Corrective color theory and techniques
  • Theory of haircutting
  • Hairstyling tools and implements
  • Cutting techniques and applications
  • Chemical texture services (chemical relaxing, permanent hair waving, relaxer application and techniques, etc.)
  • Local, state, and federal laws and statutes
  • Management and ethics
  • Interpersonal skills and salesmanship
  • Disinfection, sanitation, and safe work practices

Apprenticeships for hairdressers are commonplace, allowing graduates to receive valuable, hands-on experience while building their skillset and receiving a paycheck. Apprenticeships may be completed after graduating from a cosmetology program, or they may be completed in lieu of a formal program. However, it is important for candidates to remember that apprenticeship requirements for licensure may differ from cosmetology school requirements in terms of the number of requiered training hours. Many states, like California, oversee formal apprenticeship programs, which require students to complete a full-time, two-year program that includes full-time work with a Board-licensed salon.

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