How to Become a Cosmetologist in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is home to the highest number of cosmetologists of any state in the country. There are plenty of reasons why Pennsylvania’s salon industry is thriving, not least of which is the fact that the field offers stability, good pay and the opportunity for creative self-expression. From the national-award-winning salons of Philadelphia to the hippest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, as a cosmetologist you can make a good living using your styling and makeup skills.

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As a cosmetologist, your career trajectory is entirely based on your skills, creativity and motivation. You will need to demonstrate your skills and talent for the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology, the agency in charge of issuing cosmetology licenses in the state.

To earn your license you will need to knock out the following steps:

Complete the Pennsylvania Cosmetologist Education Requirement
Pass the Pennsylvania State Board Cosmetology Exam
Apply for a Cosmetology License in Pennsylvania
Maintain Your Pennsylvania Cosmetology License



Step 1. Complete the Pennsylvania Cosmetologist Education Requirement

To become a cosmetologist in Pennsylvania you will need to have at least a 10th grade education or equivalent (or be over the age of 35) and fulfill one of the following requirements:

  • Graduate from an approved cosmetology school in Pennsylvania
  • Complete an approved apprenticeship program

Cosmetology Schools in Pennsylvania

To become eligible for licensure via this route you must graduate from a licensed cosmetology training program that includes at least 1,250 hours of study over the course of at least eight months.

As part of your education, you can expect to study subjects including:

  • Hair design
  • Hair cutting
  • Makeup training
  • Texture and coloring
  • Hairstylist training
  • Retail and business training
  • Skin care
  • Safety procedures
  • State laws and regulations

As a student in a licensed cosmetology school you will work side-by-side with your peers to develop your own artistic strengths, which you can compare and contrast with others’. Your academic learning will be augmented by hands-on education as you refine and practice your newly acquired skills in a classroom environment that fosters your individual creativity.

Pennsylvania Cosmetologist Apprenticeship Program

To register as an apprentice you will need to submit an Apprentice Application with the State Board of Cosmetology and ensure that the following conditions are met:

  • Your cosmetologist teacher must have at least five years of experience as a licensed cosmetologist in Pennsylvania
  • In addition to your teacher, the salon in which you complete your apprenticeship must have at least two licensed cosmetologists employed who work at least 25 hours per week – all must be in the salon at all times while you are completing your apprenticeship

Your apprenticeship must last a minimum of 2,000 hours and be at least eight months in duration.



Step 2. Pass the Pennsylvania State Board Cosmetology Exam

As a prospective cosmetologist you will need to pass the State Board theory and practical test for cosmetologists once you have completed your education. These are administered by the testing agency Pearson VUE.

The registration process for these tests is as follows:

  • Complete an application to test with Pearson VUE – note that included in this is also your application for licensure with the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology
  • When your application is approved you will receive notice from Pearson VUE that you can register for the theory and practical tests
  • Now you can register online to take both the practical and theory tests with Pearson VUE at exam sites located in the cities of:
    • Harrisburg
    • Scranton
    • Allentown
    • Plymouth Meeting

You can expect to encounter the following on your exams:

Practical Exam

For your practical exam you will perform the following procedures on a mannequin. You will need to bring your own mannequin to the practical exam, and it must not have pre-sectioned or pre-parted hair. You will be evaluated on your performance of the following procedures:

  • Thermal styling with a curling iron
  • Thermal styling with a flat iron or pressing comb
  • Chemical relaxing
  • Eyebrow tweezing
  • Basic facial
  • Facial skin cleansing
  • Male facial
  • Haircolor highlighting
  • Haircolor retouching
  • Tapered haircut with clippers
  • Tapered haircut with scissors over a comb
  • Layered haircut with a razor
  • Layered haircut with shears
  • Natural hair braiding
  • Permanent wave
  • Hair removal from eyebrow, upper lip, or chin
  • Basic manicure
  • Nail polish application
  • Nail tip application
  • Acrylic nail painting
  • Face, neck, and shoulder manipulations
  • Masque application
  • Makeup application
  • Face and neck shaving
  • Skin analysis

Theory Exam

Your theory exam is comprised of 110 scored questions taken from the following subjects:

  • Safety, rules, and regulations: 25%-35%
  • Hair bleaching, coloring, tinting, and lightening:13%-17%
  • Permanent waving: 13%-17%
  • Chemical relaxing and straightening: 13%-17%
  • Haircutting: 8%-12%
  • Trichology: 4%-10%
  • Shampooing and scalp analysis: 4%-8%
  • Styling: 4%-10%
  • Esthetics: 4%-8%
  • Nails: 4%-8%



Step 3. Apply for a Cosmetology License in Pennsylvania

At this point you will have met all of the cosmetology licensing requirements stipulated by the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology. Your application for licensure with the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology would have been completed when you applied for testing with Pearson VUE. Once you pass your theory and practical exams this application will be forwarded for approval to the Board by Pearson VUE along with your test scores.

Option to Apply for a Temporary License

When you fill out an initial application for licensure with the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology through Pearson VUE you will also have the option to elect for a temporary license. This will allow you to practice temporarily as a cosmetologist until you take your exams and receive a normal license from the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology.

A temporary license may not be renewed and becomes invalidated immediately if you fail an exam or fail to show up for a scheduled exam.

Out-of-State Cosmetologists

If you are a licensed cosmetologist in another state you may also be eligible for licensure in Pennsylvania under certain conditions. First, you must be from a state that has a reciprocity agreement for cosmetologists with Pennsylvania. This includes all of the states except the following:

  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Foreign countries

You must also meet the following conditions:

  • Have a current out-of-state cosmetology license
  • Have at least two years of experience as a licensed cosmetologist
  • Have met the minimum required amounts of education – you can augment these hours if needed in Pennsylvania

If you meet these conditions you will need to request your state’s licensing board to send proof of the above facts to the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology. You will additionally need to submit an Application for Licensure via Reciprocity to the Board. If you apply for licensure via this route you may not be required to complete testing through Pearson VUE.



Step 4. Maintain Your Pennsylvania Cosmetology License

Your cosmetology license expires every two years and must be renewed. You can find more information about licensing through Pennsylvania’s Barber and Cosmetology Association.

As you consider the career field of cosmetology you may be interested in knowing where jobs may be found in Pennsylvania. Across the state there are 24,850 cosmetologists, concentrated in cities like:

  • 11,750 in the greater Philadelphia area
  • 8,220 in metropolitan Philadelphia
  • 5,740 in Pittsburgh
  • 1,700 in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metropolitan area
  • 1,330 in the Harrisburg-Carlisle area
  • 1,040 in the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area
  • 1,010 in Lancaster
  • 800 in Reading
  • 790 in the York-Hanover area
  • 670 in the Youngstown area

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