Quick Answers to Common FAQs About Cosmetology Training
What careers can I train for?
You can train for a variety of careers. You could become a cosmetologist, with skills in all areas of the beauty field, or you could pursue more specific jobs like hairstylist, makeup artist, nail technician, or esthetician.
There are also many specialized beauty careers to consider, including permanent makeup artist, beauty writer, and paramedical esthetician.
What can I learn at school?
This can vary depending on whether you choose a general program or one that concentrates on a specific area of the beauty industry. In most programs, you can learn how to color, cut, and style hair, apply makeup, perform facials, and a lot more.
Is there a difference between cosmetology and beauty schools?
No. A cosmetology school and a beauty school are the same thing. These words are often used interchangeably, and both can prepare you for a number of careers in the industry.
Are there licensing or certification requirements?
Yes. All states require licensing to practice in this field. Nearly all personal care workers (excluding shampooers) are obligated to go through some type of certification process, often including a written exam and a practical testing component.
Exam preparation, and sometimes the cost of the examination itself, can be included in your program. This is something you'll want to consider when researching potential schools.
How do I choose a school?
Check out the facilities and instructors, as well as the accreditation of the school. Take a look at what is included in the curricula for the available programs and make sure they include the areas that interest you. If you want to become a hairstylist, it would be important to find a program that has a heavy focus on hair, including coloring, cutting, and styling.
How long is cosmetology school?
The length of your training can vary depending on the program type and what your career goals are. Certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees are all options for training and usually require different time commitments. Overall, you can expect your education to typically last anywhere from nine months to two years.
Where can I find training?
You can find cosmetology schools in the comprehensive listing above. Or to narrow your results to beauty and cosmetology schools near you, use our fast and efficient zip code search feature.
How much is cosmetology school?
The cost of cosmetology school depends on location and the type of institution. Beauty schools tend to be more expensive in urban settings than in rural areas. But that isn't always the case.
Tuition typically ranges from about $5,000 to $20,000 for a full cosmetology program (with some schools costing significantly more or less). Some schools include the cost of books and supplies as part of the tuition. However, this varies from school to school, so it's a good idea to check with potential schools before enrolling.
Many beauty schools have grant programs for creative and motivated students. Plus, other types of financial aid (such as student loans) are commonly available for those who qualify.
Can I study online?
Yes, you can study online. This can be a great option, particularly if you don't have the time to attend regular classes. You can use this listing of online cosmetology schools to find a program that works for you.
How much can I expect to earn after I finish school?
This depends greatly on which area of the field you decide to pursue. The median annual income for hairdressers and cosmetologists came in at $22,700 in 2012.* Keep in mind that gratuities (tips) can greatly increase your take-home income, particularly if you're delighting your clients with an exceptional level of service.
There are additional opportunities in the motion picture and film industry, or in certain states where there is an increased demand for beauty services, where the wages are significantly higher.
What is the job outlook?
The job outlook for cosmetologists has been rated as "bright,"* meaning that the industry is expected to grow rapidly. And the resulting demand for trained professionals means lots of job openings.
The Next Step:
Cosmetologist Career Information
Fun. Variety. Social interaction. Creative enjoyment. Who wouldn't want to train for a job that can provide all of that in addition to greater financial stability?
A cosmetology education can be your springboard into a life where you actually feel delighted by what you do each day. It can launch you into a career that invites laughter and warmth and gratitude from the people you serve.
Think about it: Personal appearance is an important element in confidence and self-esteem. Most of us want to look good because looking good often means feeling good.
As a cosmetologist, you'll have the chance to experience being highly sought-after by people who want to take their individual beauty to a higher level. Your clients may just become your biggest fans.
So spend some time diving into the questions below. You'll find answers about many important topics like what cosmetologists do, how much they earn, and how you can become one.
And don't forget: Schools are easy to find with our popular search feature.
This is one of the few careers that can enable you to consistently impact other people in a positive way while also receiving personal and professional rewards.
A cosmetologist is:
- Someone who has been trained in the skillful cosmetic treatment of hair, skin, and nails
- A professional who holds a cosmetology license in the state in which he or she works
- Often a specialist in one or more areas of of the field, sometimes going by titles such as hairstylist, hairdresser, colorist, beautician, manicurist, or makeup artist
Most licensed cosmetologists—about 90 percent—are women, but men can also find success in the beauty industry.
Cosmetology vs. Esthetics
Although a cosmetologist (with the right training) is sometimes also an esthetician, an esthetician is not usually a cosmetologist. That's because cosmetology incorporates general care for hair, skin, and nails whereas esthetics, as a career, is solely about specialized skin care.
Licensed estheticians, in general, have received more advanced training in various facial beauty treatments, makeup application, full-body skin treatments, and hair removal techniques. They often earn certifications in special procedures such as micropigmentation (i.e., subtle facial tattooing like permanent eyeliner), chemical resurfacing, microdermabrasion (mechanical removal of skin imperfections), and electrolysis. Estheticians are also sometimes more involved in providing certain massage services such as reflexology.
In many states, you must obtain separate licenses (and training) for these two career outcomes.
This field has an incredible number of options. While most cosmetologists focus on hairstyling, many others choose to make skin or nails the focal point of their careers. And some do it all.
Depending on where they are in their careers and what they've chosen to focus on, beauty professionals carry out tasks for their clients such as:
Hair and Scalp Services
- Shampooing hair
- Cutting hair in a wide variety of classic and modern styles
- Coloring hair using different types of hair color, such as temporary, semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and permanent
- Using a variety of hair coloring techniques, such as highlighting, lowlighting, color blocking, and all-over coloring
- Styling hair using a range of methods such as perms, straightening treatments, thermal curling, and wet styling
- Doing scalp treatments
- Giving hair care advice
- Cleaning and styling wigs and other hairpieces
Facials, Nail Care, and Other Beauty Services
- Performing facials (cleaning and softening the skin of the face)
- Advising on makeup choices and application
- Performing manicures and pedicures (trimming, shaping, and polishing nails, removing cuticles, and softening the skin of hands/feet)
- Removing unwanted body hair
- Giving head, neck, and arm massages
- Selling beauty products for the care of hair, skin, or nails
- Keeping records of hair color and skin-care regimens (for regular clients)
- Ensuring that work areas are clean and tools are sanitary
Owning a Cosmetology Business
Those who own and manage their own salons may also perform duties such as:
- Hiring and supervising salon personnel
- Maintaining accurate and up-to-date inventory and business records
- Ordering necessary supplies
- Purchasing advertising and other marketing services
What You Can Learn in School
Beauty school is seen as a rite of passage by many cosmetologists—one that is both fun and challenging. Most beauty schools teach the fundamentals—enough to prepare you to pass state licensing exams.
Many schools also set policies for attendance, dress code, and punctuality. They want their students prepared to excel in the job market. That means they focus on more than just learning how to perform hair, skin, or nail procedures; they also encourage personal discipline so that students will be early to work, clean their stations, and maintain high levels of professionalism long after they graduate.
In addition to classroom study, many schools also have their own on-site salons where students can practice their skills on real clients (who pay discounted prices for the services).
The actual curriculum used by many schools is the same as, or very similar to, what is found in Milady's Standard Cosmetology textbooks. A full program generally includes the following subjects:
- Principles of hair design (such as how to enhance a person's look based on facial shape)
- Basic hair care (shampooing, rinsing, and conditioning)
- Basic haircutting (including core cuts)
- Hairstyling (including how to use the proper tools and techniques)
- Hair braiding and braid extensions
- Hair coloring
- Chemical hair texturing
- Wigs and other hair enhancements
- Hair removal (such as waxing and tweezing)
- Performing basic facials
- Makeup application
- Performing manicures and pedicures
- Developing a professional image
- Communication skills
- Creating a resume and portfolio
- Preparing for job interviews
- Basic business skills
- Sanitary practices
- General anatomy and physiology
- Basics of chemistry and electricity
- Hair and scalp characteristics
- Properties of skin and nails (including how they grow)
- Skin and nail diseases and disorders
Typical Program Length
Because they are not all created equal, the length of programs offered by beauty schools can vary significantly. Plus, a lot depends on the regulations of your state and how many training hours are required in order to qualify for a cosmetology license.
Most full cosmetology programs (those that include training in hair, skin, and nails) take nine months to one year to complete.
In some states, it is possible to obtain a license for just skin or nails. That means, if you don't want to do hair, you could conceivably attend a beauty school to become a skin care specialist or nail technician and spend only four months or less in training.
Licensing and Other Requirements
All states in the U.S. require cosmetologists to be licensed, but the specific requirements vary from state to state. How you go about becoming licensed will depend entirely on the regulations in the area in which you plan to work.
- Most states currently require a minimum number of training hours or credits to be earned from a state-approved school before you can qualify for a license.
- A few states give you the option of receiving your training from either an approved beauty school or through an apprenticeship. The number of hours you must earn through an apprenticeship, however, is usually about double the number required from cosmetology school.
- Most states require you to be at least 16-years-old and have a high school diploma or GED in order to qualify for a license. Most beauty schools also require this before you can begin training.
- Once you have fulfilled the requirement for training hours, you must pass state licensing examinations. In most states, that means passing two exams—1) a written test and 2) either a practical skills test or an oral exam.
- The written exams from state boards often include subject areas such as:
- infection control (personal hygiene, sanitation, and sterilization), safety precautions
- hair coloring and related chemicals
- professional ethics
- general anatomy and physiology
- state laws and regulations
- basic principles of electricity and electrical devices related to beauty
- scalp disorders
- salon management
- skin care principles
- nail care basics
- The practical skills exams generally require the use of a mannequin, but a few states may require that you use a live model instead. It varies by state, but the skills you must successfully demonstrate can include procedures such as:
- hair shaping
- thermal curling
- setting pin curls and rollers
- wet hairstyling
- chemical waving
- blow-dry styling
- hair coloring and retouching
- chemical relaxing
- thermal straightening
- performing a basic facial
- handling salon accidents
- performing a basic manicure
- eyebrow arching
- applying makeup
License Renewal and Moving to Other States
- Some states require that you periodically renew your license. This might mean fulfilling specific continuing education requirements.
- If you are licensed in one state and decide to move to another one to work, you will need to check the regulations of the state you are moving to. In most cases, your license will not simply transfer over. You may be required to obtain additional training hours in your new state or pass that state's exams.
How to Break Into the Beauty Industry
To give yourself the best shot at a successful career, it's useful to keep a number of things in mind. Here are some of them:
Choosing a School
- Not all beauty schools teach all aspects of cosmetology equally. For example, some schools focus more on hair and include less training in skin and nail care. Look for a school with a curriculum that's in line with what you're interested in learning about.
- The more services you are able to perform, the more employment opportunities you are likely to have. For instance, you are likely to garner more interest if you combine your cosmetology license with a license in something like massage therapy or esthetics. So consider a school that can help you achieve this.
Getting into the Workforce
- While in school, you should network with as many experienced beauty professionals as possible. Knowing a variety of stylists, estheticians, massage therapists, and others can pay off big later on when you are looking for work.
- Research potential employers. You can often spot a good one by looking for things such as whether it is a member of the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), whether it has a continuing education fund, and whether it offers paid vacation and health insurance to its employees.
- Some salons will test your skills before hiring you. So it's a good idea to line up some friends and family who are willing to act as your live models for demonstrating one or more designated cosmetology procedures.
- As a newly licensed cosmetologist, you may want to obtain a position as an "apprentice" or "stylist assistant" at a large high-end salon so that you have the chance to observe and learn from a good variety of accomplished cosmetologists.
Progressing in Your Career
- Early in your career, it is best to try and stay in one location with one employer for at least a few years. You need to establish a stable base of your own regular clients, which can take time.
- Stay on top of the latest trends and techniques by seeking new advanced training every year or as often as you can.
- Many find that their work becomes the most rewarding (personally and financially) when they are able to own their own businesses. Once you've attracted a large and loyal clientele and obtained a management license (if it's required in your state), you may be in a good place to begin your own cosmetology business.
- To help offset some of the startup and operating costs of launching your own business, consider teaming up with another professional (an esthetician or massage therapist, for example) who can complement the services you offer and share the costs.
Benefits of the Job
To give you an idea of what this challenging and rewarding profession can offer you, here are some reasons why it is such a popular career choice:
- Satisfaction—The confidence that you can give your clients by helping them look their best can also result in a great feeling of personal fulfillment and accomplishment for yourself.
- Versatility—Due to the wide range of beauty services offered in today's spas and salons, skilled professionals with up-to-date training can have many options within their careers.
- Portability—As long as you meet the necessary licensing requirements, you can work wherever you choose.
- Opportunity—Once equipped with practical experience, cosmetologists can become self-employed with little expense compared to other fields.
- Variety—You can have the opportunity to meet—and delight—a wide variety of people. Plus, your regular, long-term clients can easily turn into long-term friends.
- Interactivity—If you thrive in a social environment and enjoy interacting with others, then this is one of the few career fields that can allow you to do that most of the day, every day.
- Creativity—You can be rewarded for using your artistic talents and staying on top of current fashion and design trends.
- Viability—Cosmetologists provide services that must be done locally, so they are protected from the trend of overseas outsourcing. This might not seem like a big deal, but, in today's world, this is an important point to consider as you think about your future.
Most industry pros work in stand-alone hair and beauty salons. However, careers in beauty can also involve employment at spas, hotels, resorts, and residential care homes.
Of course, many are self-employed and choose to work from home. Some even offer mobile beauty services, traveling to their clients' locations to perform hair, skin, or nail treatments.
Wages are usually based on an hourly rate, on commission from each service provided, or both.
In addition, cosmetologists regularly earn tips from clients of between 10 to 20 percent on their services (15 percent is customary in many places). And, salary can also include sizeable commissions from selling hair care and beauty products.
Based on national estimates from May 2014, the typical annual wages of non-self-employed cosmetologists break down this way: *
- Median wages were $23,120 (before tips and sales commissions).
- The highest-earning 10 percent made $45, 840 or more (before tips and sales commissions).
Higher Earning Potential
When everything is added up, the average salary is often much more than what is reflected in the above statistics.
And even though it can take a little time to achieve the same earnings as a seasoned professional, earning power increases as experience is gained, skills are improved, and clientele is expanded.
Some salons also offer benefits such as paid vacation and health insurance.
Experienced professionals also have the potential to earn far more than the above by becoming self-employed or owning their own salons.
Cosmetologists are in demand. In fact, few career sectors withstand changing economic conditions as well as this one. Job outlook in this field remains consistently positive. In America, employment of cosmetologists who do hair is expected to increase by about 13 percent between 2012 and 2022. **
Demand will stay strong for a number of reasons:
- The beauty industry is expanding.
- America's growing population means that the need for basic hair services will grow right along with it.
- Baby boomers and young people alike are increasingly seeking out advanced hair treatments as well as spa services such as skin and nail treatments.
Opportunities will be best for cosmetologists who are licensed in a broad range of services.
It's easy to understand that more clients and more money can come from keeping up with the latest trends and maintaining advanced skills. And, of course, cosmetologists can also increase their incomes (and profile) by becoming great at selling beauty products to their clients, managing salons, or even opening their own beauty shops. But beyond these typical options for advancement, there are additional opportunities.
Additional employment areas include:
- Teaching in beauty schools
- Becoming sales representatives for beauty-product companies
- Working as image or fashion consultants
- Acting as examiners for their state licensing boards
Some even go on to do things like provide hair and beauty services to actors on movie sets or to help medical patients regain their confidence by providing medical esthetics.
How Can I Get Started?
Armed with the latest facts, you can move forward with greater confidence. Start by using the zip code search tool below to find the schools near you. Then request information about how you can start training to help other people look and feel their confident best.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last accessed on July 24, 2015.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, website last accessed on June 8, 2015.
Professional Beauty Association | National Cosmetology Association (PBA | NCA), website last accessed on June 6, 2014.
National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology, website last accessed on June 6, 2014.