How to Become a Cosmetologist in South Dakota

From local movie productions, to Sioux City’s upscale salons, cosmetologists in South Dakota are in demand for their ability to make people look and feel their best.

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A career in cosmetology will allow you to put your creative skills to use working with hair, nails, and makeup. Becoming a cosmetologist in South Dakota offers flexibility, a stable income, and the opportunity to use your natural talents in your profession.

It takes time and dedication to become a licensed cosmetologist through the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission. However with perseverance and a commitment to your craft, you can successfully navigate the following steps:

Graduate from a Cosmetology Program
Apply for Testing and a Temporary License with the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission
Pass South Dakota’s Required Examinations
Develop your Career in Cosmetology



Step 1. Graduate from a Cosmetology Program

To become a cosmetologist in South Dakota you must graduate from a cosmetology school that offers a curriculum of at least 2,100 hours of education. There are currently six approved cosmetology schools in South Dakota located in:

  • Rapid City
  • Sioux Falls
  • Sturgis
  • Watertown

Completing a cosmetology training program can take anywhere from one to two years, and will include a curriculum that covers:

  • Salon management
  • Hair cutting and coloring
  • Hairstylist training
  • Permanent waving
  • Esthetics
  • Manicuring
  • Scientific concepts
  • Chemical relaxing
  • Makeup training
  • Electricity, hazardous materials, and safety
  • Use of an automated external defibrillator (AED)
  • Laws pertaining to cosmetologists
  • Sanitation
  • Styling

In addition to graduating from a cosmetology program, all applicants must be high school graduates or hold a GED equivalent.

Education for Expanded Duties

You will need to complete additional approved education if you want to use electric drills or files and perform microdermabrasion. Becoming certified in either of these areas requires that you first become a licensed cosmetologist.

  • Mircodermabrasion – 16 hours of instruction that covers:
    • Hands-on machine operation
    • Skin types
    • Sanitation and safety procedures


Option for an Apprenticeship

You also have the option to choose to pursue an apprenticeship instead of a traditional cosmetology education. As an apprentice, you will be required to train 40 hours per week for 18 months, spending at least 3,000 hours of time on a cosmetology curriculum in total.

To get started on your apprenticeship, you will need to complete an Apprentice Checklist and submit this to the Executive Director of the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission.



Step 2. Apply for Testing and a Temporary License with the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission

Once you have completed your cosmetology program, you will be ready to fill out an application to take the required cosmetology exams. This will also allow you to qualify for a temporary permit until the time you pass the exam. To be eligible for a temporary license you will need to find a salon in South Dakota that is willing to hire you while you wait to take the required examinations and receive your testing results. If you fail any of your exams or don’t show up, your temporary license will become immediately invalidated.

Once you pass your tests, the Cosmetology Commission will issue you a full license allowing you to apply for cosmetology jobs in South Dakota.

Out-of-State Candidates

As a general rule, to be eligible for licensure as a cosmetologist in South Dakota your home state or country must have required an amount of education and testing that is equivalent or greater to that required by South Dakota.

If you are lacking 2,100 hours of cosmetology education you can complete any outstanding amounts in South Dakota or earn up to 1,000 hours of education by counting your work experience as such on a 2:1 ratio (two hours of work experience equals one hour of education, allowable for up to a maximum of 1,000 hours of education).

As an out-of-state candidate you will also need to have passed exams that are equivalent to those required by South Dakota. You can apply for a temporary license to work in a specified salon until you have completed any outstanding exams. You cannot complete any outstanding exams before you have fulfilled the education requirement.

A complete application for licensure as an out-of-state candidate will include the following:

Once you have passed any outstanding tests the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission will issue you a full license.



Step 3. Pass South Dakota’s Required Examinations

Once you pass these examinations the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission will issue you a full license:

  • Cosmetologist Theory Examination
  • Cosmetologist Practical Examination
  • South Dakota Laws and Rules Test

Cosmetologist Theory Examination

South Dakota has adopted the National-Interstate Council (NIC) of State Boards of Cosmetology Theory Examination as its qualifying theory test for prospective cosmetologists. You can check the exam calendar to see when and where this exam is offered throughout the state. You will be allowed up to two hours to complete this exam, which is comprised of questions from the following subjects:

  • Hair services and hair care – 40 percent
    • Principles of hair design and cutting
    • Trichology
    • Chemical hair services
    • Customer care and draping procedures


  • Scientific concepts – 30 percent
    • Infection control
    • Anatomy and physiology
    • Basic principles of chemistry and electricity


  • Nail services and care – 15 percent
    • Manicure and pedicure procedures
    • Advanced nail care


  • Skin services and care – 15 percent
    • Skin histology
    • Facial procedures
    • Temporary hair removal procedures

Cosmetologist Practical Examination

South Dakota has also adopted the NIC’s Practical Examination for cosmetology candidates. You can find the dates and locations this exam is offered on the state Cosmetology Commission’s exam calendar. You will be allowed up to three hours to complete this exam, which will assess your performance of activities such as:

  • Client protection and set-up
  • Chemical waving
  • Thermal curling
  • Hair cutting
  • Hair lightening and relaxing
  • Basic facial

South Dakota Laws and Rules Test

Once your application has been deemed complete the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission will mail you a candidate brochure, a state laws and rules booklet, and information on the examination procedure. The South Dakota Laws and Rules Test is a written exam that covers legislation such as:



Step 4. Develop Your Career in Cosmetology

You will need to renew your cosmetology license every year by your birthday. You will find a license renewal form at the bottom of your current license. To renew, you simply need to pay a renewal fee and send in the renewal form to the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission.

As you begin your career, you will need to start by making a name for yourself. Newly licensed cosmetologists usually break in their shears in a local salon or with a franchise. As you develop your skills, you can progress to high-end salons and move on to bigger cities and trendier neighborhoods.

Once you have established yourself well enough to have a loyal client base, you can consider obtaining a Booth Rental License, in effect renting chair space in a salon. This will afford the maximum flexibility for your career as you will be in business for yourself and be able to set your own prices and keep all your profits.

One of the conditions of earning a booth license is that you must get a South Dakota Sales Tax License. Once you are ready for this step you can fill out a Booth License Application and submit it to the South Dakota Cosmetology Commission in Pierre.

Eventually, the most successful cosmetologists go on to open their own salons, leading their own business with their own employees.

There are approximately 820 licensed cosmetologists working across the state, including:

  • 290 in Sioux Falls
  • 280 in the greater Sioux City area
  • 280 in the eastern part of the state
  • 200 in Rapid City
  • 80 in the central region of the state

Some of the hottest salons in South Dakota include:

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