How Much Do Hairstylists Make?

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Flexible Hours, Self-Employment Are Perks of the Beauty Business

A great haircut can transform a person's looks. The median salary for a hairstylist is $27,630, but those who cater to the rich and famous can easily earn six figures. Because most hairstylists are self-employed, it is a good career choice for those who want to accommodate their family's schedule; many part-time opportunities are available.

Job Description

Hairstylists provide any combination of services for the hair, including washing, conditioning, coloring, cutting, drying, and chemically curling or straightening. Stylists are trained to assess a customer's scalp and make recommendations to treat conditions such as breakage or dandruff. Hairstylists are responsible for cleaning and disinfecting their work spaces and tools. They may schedule their own appointments. If self-employed, they must manage their own financial records. Salon owners must oversee the business side of hairstyling, which can include hiring staff and dealing with budgets and accounting.

Education Requirements

Training programs, available at community colleges, beauty schools and cosmetology schools, range from nine months to two years. Most hairdressers have earned a minimum of a high school diploma or G.E.D. before entering career training. Students learn about hair care and styling, and may also be trained in skin care, nail care, make up and salon management, depending on the program.

Because state licensure is required to work as a hairstylist, it is important to attend a state-approved school. In general, students are required to complete 1,500 to 2,000 hours of training, which includes lectures, demonstrations and supervised work with clients. Most students attend school full-time, but some schools also offer part-time options.

Tuition for an accredited cosmetology program ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. Books and equipment can cost an additional $2,000 to $3,000. Federal student loans are available for students attending an accredited school and provide monies for tuition, books and living expenses. Scholarships may be available through the school or through local organizations such as clubs or nonprofits. Even a partial scholarship can help with the cost of your education, so be sure to check possible sources in your area.

Hairstylists must be licensed, although requirements vary from state to state. Some states require continuing education for license renewal annually or biannually. Classes are available at trade shows and other industry events, through product supply outlets and even online.

About the Industry

Hairstylists can work full-time or part-time. Stylists who earn the most often work evenings and/or weekends to meet peak demand. Physical stamina is important in this job, as it requires long hours on your feet. You may be exposed to harsh chemicals from colorants, relaxers and permanent wave solutions. Stylists work in salons and barbershops under one of two broad classifications, as payroll employees or as non-payroll independent contractors. Consider your options before deciding what's right for you and your family.

When you work for an independent or chain-operated salon, you are under the direct supervision of the salon owner or manager. You earn a base salary with an opportunity for bonuses and tips. Depending on the salon and the number of hours you work, you may be eligible for benefits such as health insurance and paid vacations.

For stylists working at chain salons, base pay is typically low, but high customer volume usually ensures steady income. Stylists fresh out of school, or older stylists returning to the field after a hiatus, find that chain salons help build their skills, with ample opportunities for education as well as generous product discounts. Stylists promoted to management have the potential to earn more.

If you rent a space within a salon, you work as an independent contractor, and the salon owner is essentially your landlord. There is both greater freedom and greater responsibility with this arrangement as opposed to working as an employee. You set your own schedule, use the products of your choosing and keep all earnings above booth rental cost. You must also file and pay quarterly taxes, build your own client base and buy your own equipment and supplies. There are no benefits when you're an independent contractor, so you'll have to provide your own health insurance. There is no paid time off for illness, holidays or vacations.

Years of Experience

Pay for hairstylists typically ranges from $21,417 to $31,673 annually, but can vary widely depending on a number of factors. Geographic location, customer base, type of services provided and number of hours worked weekly will all affect your pay. Hairstylists are seldom salaried employees. They may be self-employed and rent booth space from a salon owner, or work on commission for a chain-operated salon. Hairstylists frequently receive tips, and these amounts are not included in salary calculations.

More years of experience do not necessarily translate to higher wages. Keeping in mind that many stylists work part-time, here are some typical annual pay ranges:

  • Less than 1 year of experience: $15,000 to $30,000
  • 4 to 6 of experience: $16,000 to $32,000
  • 7 to 9 years of experience: $16,000 to $33,000
  • 15+ years of experience: $17,000-$34,000

Job Growth Trend

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth for hairstylists, along with barbers and cosmetologists, will be 10 percent higher than average when compared to other professions. As the population continues to rise, so will the demand for hairstylists' services.