How to Become a Cosmetologist in Washington

Working as a stylist in Washington means being able to express yourself artistically while giving clients plenty of reasons to love the way they look. As a skilled cosmetologist, your shears will help shape a career that could take you anywhere – from styling hair in one of Capitol Hill’s trendy studios, to providing spa treatments in a swanky Eastside salon.

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Whether you’re from Spokane’s felony flats or the hills of Bellevue, your success as a cosmetologist in Washington depends entirely on your motivation, talent, dedication, and customer skills.

To work as a stylist or hairdresser in Washington, you will need to complete the following steps to earn a cosmetologist license through the Washington State Department of Licensing:

Pursue Education and Training in the Field of Cosmetology
Pass Washington’s Cosmetology Examinations
Apply for a Cosmetology License with the Washington Department of Licensing
Explore your Career Options within Washington’s Beauty Industry



Step 1. Pursue Education and Training in the Field of Cosmetology

There are two ways to become eligible for a cosmetology license in Washington:

  • Graduate from a Washington State-licensed cosmetology school that includes at least 1,600 hours of instruction
  • Complete a Washington-approved cosmetology apprentice program of at least 2,000 hours

Once you are enrolled in either an apprentice program or cosmetology college in Washington, your instructor will need to send a Registration Form on your behalf to the Department of Licensing in Olympia.

Your apprenticeship or cosmetology degree program must cover the following subjects:

  • Cosmetology business practices
  • Shampooing, including draping, conditioning, and rinsing
  • A minimum of 100 hours in manicures and pedicures
  • Hair and scalp analysis
  • Methods of hair cutting and hair trimming
  • A minimum of 100 hours in esthetics
  • Hair styling, including braiding, styling aids, thermal, and wet styling
  • Trimming and cutting of facial hair, including eyebrows, beard, and other facial hair
  • Artificial hair
  • Perms
  • Hair coloring, lightening, and bleaching
  • Chemical relaxing
  • Sanitizing and disinfecting
  • Diseases and disorders cosmetologists should watch out for
  • Chemical storage and electronics safety
  • First aid and emergency procedures



Step 2. Pass Washington’s Cosmetology Examinations

As a candidate for a cosmetology license in Washington you will need to pass two examinations. Once you have graduated from your apprentice program or cosmetology school, you will be eligible to take these exams:

  • Written Cosmetology Examination
  • Practical Cosmetology Examination

Both exams are administered through the National Testing Network (NTN)/Ergonomics. You can register online with NTN using information that your school or apprentice program provides you.

You can start preparing for the exams by reviewing the NTN’s Washington Cosmetologist Exam Preparation Guide.

Written Cosmetology Examination

You will be given 90 minutes to complete the written exam, which is administered in multiple-choice format on a computer. Exam questions will be taken from the following subject areas:

  • Hair care and services – 60 percent
    • Trichology
    • Hair cutting procedures
    • Chemical services
    • Hair coloring procedures
    • Shampooing, conditioning, and draping
    • Hairstyling procedures
    • Wigs, enhancements, and extensions
    • Chemical procedures and hair coloring


  • Scientific concepts – 40 percent
    • Infection control
    • Human anatomy and physiology
    • Body positioning and ergonomics
    • Basic principles of electricity and chemistry

The written exam is offered throughout Washington at testing centers in:

  • Vancouver
  • Olympia
  • Everett
  • Spokane
  • Wenatchee
  • Pasco
  • Yakima

Practical Cosmetology Examination

The practical exam will require you to complete the following procedures using a mannequin head in front of an evaluator within the specified amount of time:

  • Client protection and set up – 10 minutes
  • Thermal curling – 10 minutes
  • Hair cutting – 30 minutes
  • Chemical waving – 20 minutes
  • Virgin hair lightening, hair relaxing, and retouch – 10 minutes, 10 minutes, and 20 minutes, respectively
  • Facial – 10 minutes
  • Manicure – 20 minutes

The practical exam is offered at testing centers located in:

  • Spokane
  • Fife, near Tacoma



Step 3. Apply for a Cosmetology License with the Washington Department of Licensing

If you are a Washington State resident, you will apply with NTN directly once you graduate from cosmetology school. Once you pass your exams, NTN will send your scores to the Washington State Department of Licensing, who will then issue your license once you have paid the licensing fee through your online NTN account.

For both licensing options described below, send your application and associated materials to:

Cosmetology Program
Department of Licensing
PO Box 3856
Seattle, WA 98124-3856

Out-of-State Cosmetologists

If you are a licensed cosmetologist in another state you may also be eligible for licensure in Washington. To determine your eligibility you will need to fill out a Reciprocity Application, sending this and proof of your out-of-state license to the Washington State Department of Licensing. When you complete this application make sure to check the box that corresponds to your own situation:

  • If you have already passed a written and practical cosmetology exam, check the box titled Reciprocity
  • If you have not passed both these exams, check the box titled Out of State

Independent Cosmetology Licensing Option

As you gain experience and make a name for yourself, you may also consider opening your own salon or spa, or leasing chair space inside an established location. If you choose any of these options you will need to get a special type of license that covers the following types of establishments:

  • Salons and beauty shops – this is for any building or leased part of a building, including leased chair space in an existing salon or spa
  • Personal services – if you perform cosmetologist services in a client’s home, office, or other designated space
  • Mobile unit, such as a mobile home or van

This license is referred to as a Salon/Shop, Personal Services, or Mobile Unit License. An application for this license entails:



Step 4. Explore your Career Options within Washington’s Beauty Industry

Starting out as a new stylist in Washington could be one of the most exciting times of your life. Your first couple of years is your chance to find your niche and to begin to make a name for yourself. While you are doing this, don’t forget that you will need to renew your license every two years before its expiration date by submitting a Renewal Application.

Hair stylist jobs and chair rental opportunities may be available in some of Washington’s top salons, which include:

After some years of experience, you may consider opening your own establishment with an Independent Cosmetology License. As a cosmetologist in Washington, you will enjoy the confidence of knowing that your career is in your own hands – literally.

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