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Your Cosmetology Career Questions Answered

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As the industry continues to grow, cosmetology careers offer lots of opportunities for those who want to provide a variety of hair, nail and skin care services. You can complete training and get licensed in less than a year.

Quick Cosmetology Facts

  • The global cosmetology industry is worth an estimated $382 billion annually.
  • There are more than 63,000 cosmetology training programs in the United States.
  • The job growth rate for cosmetologists is projected to be 13 percent through 2026, which is faster than average compared to other occupations.
  • Haircutting is the service most women spend money on, followed by manicures, pedicures and hair color.
  • Men and women in the New York City metro area spend the most annually on beauty services, followed by Miami, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Job Description

Cosmetologists are trained to help their clients with the appearance and health of their hair, skin and nails. Cosmetologists perform a single or a combination of services for clients, including haircutting, hairstyling, and coloring; facial and scalp treatments; facial and body waxing; and manicures and pedicures. Physical stamina is important, as many cosmetologists spend their days on their feet working as both a hair stylist, esthetician, and beautician, all in one. To be a successful cosmetologist, you need good interpersonal skills and an eye for style.


Cosmetology programs are sometimes operated independently, such as in national chains like Paul Mitchell and Aveda, and in vocational-technical schools, community colleges, and beauty schools.

Programs typically take from nine months to one year for completion. Students take courses in hairdressing, nail and skin care as well as in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, safety and business management. A complete cosmetology course costs from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the school. Federal financial aid is available for accredited programs. Some schools offer their own financial aid packages. Be sure to fully research accreditation and costs before you enroll.

Licensing Requirements

All 50 states require that cosmetologists be licensed to provide client services. Requirements can vary somewhat from state to state, so be sure you know the law where you live. Your cosmetology school should prepare you to meet licensing requirements. In some instances, separate licenses are needed for different services.

A cosmetology license must be renewed periodically. In a few states, renewal is required annually, while others require renewal from two to five years. License fees vary from state to state, as do requirements to show proof of professional education credits.

It's important for cosmetologists to stay up to date on the latest products and styles. Cosmetologists can subscribe to any number of publications that showcase the newest trends. Professional seminars and workshops give cosmetologists the opportunity to network with others in the profession, sample new products and learn new techniques.

Work Environment

Cosmetology careers often means working as an independent contractor, but many rent booth space in an independent salon or a chain establishment. Some cosmetologists own their own salons or work out of their homes to provide services to clients. Others travel to clients' homes to provide services. Licensed cosmetologists with experience and the right credentials may opt to teach at a vocational-technical school or a school of cosmetology.

Many cosmetologist jobs are full-time, but there are usually plenty of part-time opportunities as well. Job availability and working conditions depend on the employer and the demand for services in your location. Some cosmetologists work evenings and weekends to accommodate the needs of their clients.

Average Salary - Cosmetology

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cosmetologists earned an annual median cosmetologist salary of $29,680 in 2021, equivalent to an hourly rate of $14.27. Median salary means that half in the profession earned more, while half earned less. These figures may be low because the BLS doesn't take unreported tips into account.

A cosmetologist salary depends on the services you provide, the cost of services, how many years of experience you have, the national average at that time, the cost of living where you work, and the commission structure set by your employer, if you work for someone else. Self-employed cosmetologists can make more money, but they also have more responsibilities than entry-level cosmetologists.

Job openings describe benefits like health care and requirements like a high school diploma. The cosmetology salary range varies widely, with the top average salary of $72,000 in the District of Columbia and job openings in Beverly Hills, CA offering $100k - $130k annual salary.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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