Barbers, Cosmetologists, & Related Workers

Significant Points

  • Job opportunities for cosmetologists should be excellent, as employers report difficulties finding qualified workers to meet the growing demand for cosmetology services.
  • All barbers and cosmetologists must be licensed.
  • Very high proportions of these workers are self-employed or work flexible schedules.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Looking your best has never been easy. It requires the perfect hairstyle, exquisite nails, a neatly trimmed beard, or the proper make-up to accent your coloring. More and more, it also requires the services of barbers and cosmetologists. As people increasingly demand styles that are better suited to their individual characteristics, they must choose from a vast array of cosmetic products and rely on these professionals to help them make sense of the different options. Although tastes and fashions change from year to year, the basic task of barbers and cosmetologists has remained the same—helping people to look their best.

Barbers cut, trim, shampoo, and style hair. Many people still go to a barber for a haircut, but an increasing number seek more personalized hairstyling services, such as perms or coloring. In addition to these services, barbers may fit hairpieces, provide hair and scalp treatments, shave male customers, or give facial massages. Barbers in most States are licensed to perform all the duties of cosmetologists except skin care and nail treatment, but a growing number of barbers are trained to perform these services as well.

Cosmetologists primarily shampoo, cut, and style hair, but they also perform a number of other services. These workers, who are often called hairstylists, may advise patrons on how to care for their hair, straighten or permanent wave a customer’s hair, or lighten or darken hair color. In addition, most cosmetologists are trained to give manicures, pedicures, and scalp and facial treatments; provide makeup analysis for women; and clean and style wigs and hairpieces. Cosmetologists are licensed to provide all the services of barbers except shaving men.

A growing number of workers in cosmetology offer specialized services. The largest and fastest growing of these is manicurists, who work exclusively on nails and provide manicures, pedicures, and nail extensions to clients. Another group of specialists is estheticians, who cleanse and beautify the skin by giving facials, full-body treatments, head and neck massages, and offer hair-removal through waxing. Electrologists use an electrolysis machine to remove hair. Finally, shampooers specialize in shampooing and conditioning patrons’ hair in some larger salons.

In addition to their work with customers, barbers and cosmetologists are expected to keep their work area clean and their hairdressing implements sanitized. They may make appointments and keep records of hair color and permanent wave formulas used by their regular patrons. A growing number also actively sell hair products and other cosmetic supplies. Barbers and cosmetologists who operate their own salons have managerial duties that include hiring, supervising, and firing workers, as well as keeping records and ordering supplies.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Barbers and cosmetologists work in clean, pleasant surroundings with good lighting and ventilation. Good health and stamina are important because these workers are on their feet for most of their shift. Prolonged exposure to some hair and nail chemicals may be hazardous and cause irritation, so special care must be taken.

Most full-time barbers and cosmetologists work 40 hours a week, but longer hours are common in this occupation, especially among self-employed workers. Work schedules may include evenings and weekends, when beauty and barber shops and salons are busiest. Although weekends and lunch periods are usually very busy, barbers and cosmetologists are able to take breaks during less popular times. Nearly half of all cosmetologists work part time or have variable schedules, double the rate for barbers and for all other workers in the economy.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Barbers and cosmetologists held 723,000 jobs in 1998. Employment in these occupations is distributed as follows:

Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists 605,000
Barbers 54,000
Manicurists 49,000
Shampooers 15,000

Most of these workers are employed in beauty salons, barber shops, or department stores, but they are also found in nursing and other residential care homes, drug and cosmetics stores, and photographic studios. Nearly every town has a barber shop or beauty salon, but employment in this occupation is concentrated in the most populous cities and States. Hairstylists usually work in cities and suburbs, where the greatest demand for their services exists.

Approximately 3 of every 4 barbers and 2 in 5 cosmetologists are self-employed. Many self-employed barbers and cosmetologists own the salon in which they work, but a growing share of these workers lease the booth or chair where they work from the salon’s owner.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

Although all States require barbers and cosmetologists to be licensed, the qualifications for a license vary. Generally, a person must have graduated from a State-licensed barber or a cosmetology school and be at least 16 years old. A few States require applicants to pass a physical examination. Some States require graduation from high school while others require as little as an eighth grade education. In a few States, completion of an apprenticeship can substitute for graduation from a school, but very few barbers or cosmetologists learn their skills in this way. Applicants for a license usually are required to pass a written test and demonstrate an ability to perform basic barbering or cosmetology services.

Some States have reciprocity agreements that allow licensed barbers and cosmetologists to practice in a different State without additional formal training. Other States do not recognize training or licenses obtained in another State; consequently, persons who wish to become a barber or a cosmetologist should review the laws of the State in which they want to work before entering a training program.

Public and private vocational schools offer daytime or evening classes in barbering and cosmetology. Full-time programs in barbering and cosmetology usually last 10 to 24 months, but training for manicurists, estheticians, and electrologists requires significantly less time. An apprenticeship program can last from 1 to 3 years. Formal training programs include classroom study, demonstrations, and practical work. Students study the basic services—haircutting, shaving, facial massaging, and hair and scalp treatments—and, under supervision, practice on customers in school "clinics.’’ Most schools also teach unisex hairstyling and chemical styling. Students attend lectures on the use and care of instruments, sanitation and hygiene, chemistry, basic anatomy and physiology, and recognition of certain skin ailments. Instruction also is provided in communication, sales, and general business practices. There are advanced courses for experienced barbers and cosmetologists in hairstyling, coloring, and the sale and service of hairpieces. Most schools teach hairstyling of men’s as well as women’s hair.

After graduating from a training program, students can take the State licensing examination. The examination consists of a written test and, in some cases, a practical test of cosmetology skills based on established performance criteria. A few States include an oral examination in which the applicant is asked to explain the procedures he or she is following while taking the practical test. In many States, cosmetology training may be credited towards a barbering license, and vice versa. A few States have even combined the two licenses into one hair styling license. In most States, a separate examination is given for people who want only a manicurist, esthetician, or electrolysis license.

For many barbers and cosmetologists, formal training and a license are only the first steps in a career that requires years of continuing education. Because hairstyles are constantly changing, barbers and cosmetologists must keep abreast of the latest fashions and beauty techniques. They do this by attending training in salons, at cosmetology schools, or at product shows. These shows offer workshops and demonstrations of the latest techniques and expose cosmetologists to a wide range of products that they can recommend to clients—an important skill as retail sales become a more important part of the salon industry.

Successful barbers or cosmetologists should have an understanding of fashion, art, and technical design. They should enjoy dealing with the public and be willing and able to follow patrons’ instructions. Communication, image, and attitude also play an important role in career success. In fact, some cosmetology schools consider "people" skills to be such an integral part of the job that they require coursework in this area. Business skills are important for those who plan to operate their own salons, and the ability to be an effective salesperson is becoming vital for nearly all barbers and cosmetologists.

During their first months on the job, new workers are given relatively simple tasks or are assigned the simpler hairstyling patterns. Once they have demonstrated their skills, they are gradually permitted to perform the more complicated tasks such as giving shaves, coloring hair, or applying a permanent. As they continue to work in the field, more training is usually required to learn the techniques used in each salon and to build on the basics learned in cosmetology school.

Advancement usually takes the form of higher earnings as barbers and cosmetologists gain experience and build a steady clientele. Some barbers and cosmetologists manage large salons or open their own after several years of experience. Others teach in barber or cosmetology schools. Other options include becoming sales representatives for cosmetics firms, opening businesses as beauty or fashion consultants, or working as examiners for State licensing boards.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Overall employment of barbers and cosmetologists is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2008, stemming from increasing population, incomes, and demand for cosmetology services. Job opportunities should be excellent as a growing number of employers report difficulties finding qualified applicants. In addition, numerous job openings will arise from turnover in this large occupation. Competition is expected for jobs and customers at the higher paying, prestigious salons, as applicants vie with a large pool of licensed and experienced cosmetologists. The number of self-employed, booth-renting cosmetologists should continue to grow, and opportunities will be better for those licensed to provide a broad range of cosmetology services.

Different employment trends are expected among the various specialties within this occupational grouping. Although employment of barbers is expected to decline, those entering the occupation should have good job prospects due to a large number of retirements, the return of men to barber shops, and the relatively small number of beauty school graduates opting to obtain barbering licenses. Within cosmetology, a surge in the demand for coloring services by teenagers and aging baby boomers, including men, will create many job openings for cosmetologists. Also, the rapid growth in the number of spa salons that provide a full range of services, including beauty wraps, pedicures, and massages, will generate numerous job openings for estheticians and cosmetologists trained to provide skin care services. In addition, jobs for manicurists will continue to climb.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Barbers and cosmetologists receive income from a variety of sources. They may receive commissions based on the price of the service or a salary based on number of hours worked. All receive tips and many receive commissions on the products they sell. In addition, some salons pay bonuses to employees who bring in new business.

Median annual earnings in 1998 for full-time cosmetologists, the largest occupation in this category, were $15,150, excluding tips. The middle 50 percent earned between $12,270 and $20,540. The lowest 10 percent had earnings of less than $11,510, while the top 10 percent earned over $27,270. Median annual earnings, excluding tips, in the industries employing the largest number of hairdressers, hair stylists, and cosmetologists in 1997 were:

Beauty shops $15,800
Drug and proprietary stores 12,500
Department stores 11,600

Among others in this occupational grouping, median annual earnings in 1998 for those working full time were $18,470 for barbers; $13,490 for manicurists; and $12,570 for shampooers. These numbers exclude tips.

A number of factors determine the total income for barbers and cosmetologists, including the size and location of the salon, the number of hours worked, customers’ tipping habits, and the competition from other barber shops and salons. A cosmetologist’s or barber’s initiative and ability to attract and hold regular customers also are key factors in determining their earnings. Earnings for entry-level workers are usually low; however, for those who stay in the profession, earnings can be considerably higher.

Although some salons offer paid vacations and medical benefits, many self-employed and part-time workers in this occupation do not enjoy such common benefits.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Other workers whose main activity consists of improving a patron’s personal appearance include beauty consultants and make-up and wig specialists. Other related workers are employed in the beauty salon industry as instructors, beauty supply distributors, and salon managers.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

A list of licensed training schools and licensing requirements for cosmetologists can be obtained from:

  • National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, 901 North Stuart St., Suite 900, Arlington, VA 22203-1816. Internet: http://www.naccas.org

Information about a career in cosmetology is available from:

  • National Cosmetology Association, 401 N. Michigan Ave., 22nd floor, Chicago, IL 60611.

For details on State licensing requirements and approved barber or cosmetology schools, contact the State board of barber examiners or the State board of cosmetology in your State capital.

O*NET Codes: 68002, 68005A, 68005B, 68005C, & 68008 About the O*NET codes

Alphabetical Indexes