How to Become a Cosmetologist in Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s cosmetologists are no strangers to trendy East Coast salons and discriminating clientele. Whether providing hair and makeup services for weddings and up-scale clientele, or maintaining classic styles for a regular group of customers, your day will be spent helping people look and feel their best.

Enter Zip:

To start working as a cosmetologist in Rhode Island, you will need to make your way through these steps:

Complete a Cosmetology Training Program
Apply for Licensure with the Rhode Island Board of Hairdressing and Barbering
Pass Rhode Island’s Required Cosmetology Exams
Find Out More About Working as a Cosmetologist in Rhode Island

Cosmetology is a growing career field in Rhode Island that will offer you stability and a chance at merit-based promotion, all while you serve clients with your creativity and skill. The Rhode Island Board of Hairdressing and Barbering is responsible for determining if you meet the qualifications to become a licensed cosmetologist in the state. The Rhode Island Department of Health’s Office of Professionals Regulation is responsible for issuing your license.

Rhode Island classifies its cosmetologists as general estheticians, and as a professional in this field you can choose among four fields to specialize:

  • Hairdresser
  • Barber
  • Manicurist
  • Esthetician

Knowing your way around the field of hairdressing is an indispensable skill you should master before moving on other areas of cosmetology. The first step to becoming a cosmetologist who specializes in hairdressing – also referred to in Rhode Island as an esthetician licensed as a hairdresser – is to graduate from an approved hairdresser school in Rhode Island.



Step 1. Complete a Cosmetology Training Program

To be licensed in hairdressing you will need to complete a program from a cosmetology hairstylist school that is at least 1,500 hours in length and approved by the Rhode Island Board of Hairdressing and Barbering. Cosmetology schools in Rhode Island typically take around one year to complete, and will provide you with instruction in the following topics:

  • Scalp treatments
  • Hair styling, including cutting, arranging, curling, creating waves, bleaching, singeing, or coloring
  • Nail manicures
  • Application of lotions, tonics, creams, clays, antiseptics, or oils to the neck, face, or arms
  • Massaging, manipulating, cleansing, exercising, or beautifying the neck, face, or arms
  • Removal of hair

Once you have completed 1,000 hours of classroom study you also have the option to work as a cosmetologist in a work-study arrangement. Although the hours you work as part of this arrangement will not count towards fulfilling the required amount of education, this can be a good way to gain experience, earn some money, and get your foot in the door while you complete your education.



Step 2. Apply for Licensure with the Rhode Island Board of Hairdressing and Barbering

Once you have completed your education you will need to apply for a cosmetology license with the Rhode Island Board of Hairdressing and Barbering. You will need to include the following materials when submitting your application:

  • Complete application for licensure
  • Arrange for your hairdressing school to send official transcripts to the Board
  • Arrange for your high school or GED program to send official transcripts to the Board, or you can directly submit a notarized copy – either way you must prove that you have graduated from high school or earned a GED

Applications usually take at least eight weeks to process. Once your application is judged to be full and complete you will need to complete Rhode Island’s testing requirements.

Out-of-State Applicants

If you are an out-of-state applicant you can qualify to become a cosmetologist in Rhode Island by submitting the following additional items along with all other application materials:

  • Copy of your current out-of-state cosmetologist license
  • If you graduated from a high school in a foreign country you will need to have your transcripts evaluated and approved through the Center for Educational Documentation
  • Official verification from your out-of-state board of cosmetology that you have passed written and practical cosmetology exams – if you have not passed one or both of these exams you will need to take and pass the outstanding exams in Rhode Island before you will be issued any licenses

Note that your original cosmetology hairdressing program must have been at least 1,500 hours in length. If needed, you will need to supplement any lesser amount of hairstylist training to equal this amount before you will be able to receive a license.

Once you have submitted a complete application you will be granted a 90-day temporary non-renewable license that will allow you to practice while your application is processed and you receive a full license.



Step 3. Pass Rhode Island’s Required Cosmetology Exams

Exams are an important part of meeting the cosmetology licensing requirements in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Board of Hairdressing and Barbering requires you to complete a practical and written exam specifically tailored to prospective cosmetologists seeking licensure as hairdressers.

Once your application for licensure has been reviewed and determined to be complete, you will receive information about scheduling your exams.

The Board of Hairdressing and Barbering can choose to administer its own examinations or another agency’s examinations, such as those offered through the National Interstate-Council (NIC) of State Boards of Cosmetology. For an idea of what to expect you can review the following cosmetology exams offered through the NIC:

Written Exam

The written exam for cosmetology hairdressers is offered four times per year at the Department of Health Auditorium on 3 Capitol Hill in Providence. As an example of what to expect on this exam you can consider the following content outline of the 90-minute NIC written exam for cosmetologists:

  • Hair care and services – 40 percent
    • Hairstyling and draping procedures
    • Haircutting procedures and trichology
    • Hair coloring procedures


  • Scientific concepts – 30 percent
    • Infection control
    • Basic principles of chemistry and electricity
    • Principles of human anatomy and physiology


  • Skin care and services – 15 percent
    • Hair removal procedures
    • Skin histiology
    • Facial procedures


  • Nail care and services – 15 percent
    • Nail structure
    • Manicure and pedicure procedures

Practical Examination

The practical examination for cosmetologist hairdressers is offered by the Board of Hairdressing and Barbering at least twice a year. To become familiar with the content of the Board’s practical exam you can review the NIC practical exam outiline for cosmetologists.

To pass your practical examination you will need to demonstrate competency in skills such as these:

  • Client protection during set up
  • Basic facial
  • Manicure
  • Thermal curling
  • Chemical waving
  • Eyebrow hair removal
  • Sculpturing of nails
  • Hair lightening and relaxing
  • Haircutting
  • Roller placement
  • Hair styling with a blow dryer
  • Pin curl placement and shaping

Once You Pass Your Exams

Once you pass your exams the Office of Professionals Regulation will issue your license. Your license will expire on October 30th every two years. The Rhode Island Board of Hairdressing and Barbering will mail you a license renewal form by the first day in September in the year your license is set to expire. To renew your license you will need to complete this form and submit it along with a renewal fee to the Board by October 15th.



Step 4. Find Out More About Working as a Cosmetologist in Rhode Island

As a new professional in your field you will most likely start by seeking job opportunities through a local salon or franchise company. If you were participating in a work-study program, you may find your first job through your original employer.

Each year dozens of new students earn their cosmetology license and it will be up to you to distinguish yourself as a uniquely creative and talented professional among your peers. There are nearly 900 cosmetologists working throughout Rhode Island, with some of the best in the field working in places like:

  • Moss Salon in Providence – voted the best salon in Rhode Island by Elle magazine
  • Studio B in Cranston – voted Best Salon in 2014 by Rhode Island Monthly
  • Salon InStyle33 in Newport

As you gain more experience and start to make a reputation for yourself, you may find a salon that would be interested in renting a chair to you. The Board of Hairdressing and Barbering allows for this if you complete an application for shop space and pay a $220 fee. If you decide on this route, you will have the option to renew your shop space permission every year by July 1st.

Down the road as you become an experienced cosmetologist in Rhode Island you can eventually develop the business know-how, connections, and client base to even potentially open your own salon. Career flexibility and advancement tied to your own motivation and performance are two of the factors that are most attractive to cosmetologists in Rhode Island.

Back to Top