Job Duties

Cosmetologists, also known as beauticians, beauty operators, or hairstylists, help people improve their appearance by making them look neater and better-groomed. They provide beauty services to their clients in order to make them look more attractive. They style the hair of their clients according to the clients' directions and to the hair type and facial features of their clients. They may shampoo, condition, cut, and set hair using a variety of techniques. They may straighten, curl, or color hair in order to give it different shapes and textures. They use tools such as combs, scissors, razors, clippers, rollers, clips, setting lotions, hot combs, and curling irons.

Many cosmetologists provide manicures and pedicures to their clients. Some are trained to provide face, neck, arm, and hand massages, as well as scalp treatments. They are usually responsible for a number of additional duties such as scheduling appointments, using the cash register, cleaning the work area and equipment, and keeping records of hair color formulas and permanent waves used by regular patrons. Those cosmetologists who are self-employed have play an additional managerial role on top of their role with clients.

Job Skills

Cosmetologists need to have a high degree of creative drive and a passion for helping people look their best. Because their work involves so much interaction with different clients, they should have a pleasant personality, as well as good communication and conversation skills. They need to have excellent manual dexterity. They should also be able to stand for long periods of time.


In 2002, cosmetologists earned a median annual salary of $18,960. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $13,020, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $35,240. Their range of their income is largely determined by factors such as size and location of the salon, the number of hours worked, clients' tipping habits, and competition from other salons.

Training and Education

In all States in the U.S., cosmetologists are required to be licensed. License requirements vary from State to State. Usually, an applicant must have graduated from an accredited cosmetology school and be at least 16 years old. In some State, applicants are required to pass a physical examination. Others require applicants to be high school graduates. Some States require only and eighth-grade education. Some States allow applicants to substitute an apprenticeship program for graduation from a cosmetology school, but this is very rare. Most applicants for licensure must pass a written test and demonstrate their skill in cosmetology.

Some States allow cosmetologists to transfer their licenses from other States, while some do not allow this practice. Training in cosmetology can be obtained at public or private vocational schools, with programs lasting from 9 to 24 months. Apprenticeships usually last between 1 and 3 years. After graduation from a program, graduates apply for a license. For most, this is not the end of their education. A successful career in cosmetology usually requires years of additional continuing education to keep up with the fast-changing styles, trends, and techniques. Visit this page about cosmetology schools for more information on getting the training you need to become a cosmetologist.


In 2002, cosmetologists, including barbers, hair stylists, and hair dressers, held about 651,000 jobs. Most were employed in barber shops or beauty salons.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of cosmetologists is expected to increase about as fast as the average. This is due to a rising demand for coloring and other hair treatments among teenagers and aging baby boomers. Most cosmetologist now cut men's as well as women's hair. Many openings will result from the need to replace workers who retire, change occupations, or leave their jobs for other reasons.