The cosmetology industry is composed of professionals who earn their living by beautifying their customers in some form, whether it is through hair care, skin or nail care, or applying makeup. In every state in the United States, cosmetologists or beauty professionals must complete a specific number of hours of training through an accredited school. Once training is completed, students must take and pass a test to become certified or licensed.

Licensed professionals then have several career paths open to them. Some cosmetologists choose to focus on nail care, others specialize in hair care or makeup, while others do not specialize and offer all services to their customers. But the overall goal of each beauty professional is to provide one or more of these services to their customers, earning payments or tips and retaining customers for many years.

According to the market research firm, IBISWorld, in 2019 there were nearly 1.3 million hair and nail salons in the United States. Sales at these establishments totaled more than $61 billion.

Today an increasing number of career options are available to cosmetologists. Although salons are still the primary employer, beauty professionals can also work for TV stations, magazines, in film studios, for modeling agencies, as private stylists to celebrities, as well as educators and trainers and consultants.

Many cosmetologists are entrepreneurs. Some salons allow stylists to rent space, while some independent companies have also begun offering space to stylists to operate. If very successful, stylists can eventually open their own salons.

Another segment of the industry works for companies that make and distribute cosmetic products. These professionals often work as sales reps or product demonstrators.