Exploring this Job

Talk to friends or parents of friends who are working in the industry, or just go to a local salon or cosmetology school and ask questions about the profession. Go to the library and get books on careers in the beauty/hair care industry. Search the Internet for related Web sites. Individuals with an interest in the field might seek after-school or summer employment as a general shop helper in a barbershop or a salon. Some schools may permit potential students to visit and observe classes.

Try your hand at cosmetology. Experiment by styling—or even cutting—the hair of your friends. Check out tutorials online at and on beauty websites.

Participate in competitions that gauge your knowledge of hairstyling techniques. The following organizations offer competitions: SkillsUSA ( and Skills Compétences Canada (

Check out for information on cosmetology careers and scholarships.

The Job

Cosmetology uses hair as a medium to sculpt, perm, color, or design a desired look. Cosmetologists, also known as hair stylists, perform all of these tasks as well as provide other services, such as deep conditioning treatments, special-occasion long hair designs, and a variety of hair-addition techniques.

A licensed hair stylist can perform hair services and also is trained and licensed to do the basics of esthetics and nail technology. Additional courses are taken in these disciplines—or someone can study just esthetics or just nail technology and get a license in these areas.

Cosmetology schools teach some aspects of human physiology and anatomy, including the bone structure of the head and some elementary facts about the nervous system, in addition to hair skills. Some schools have now added psychology-related courses, dealing with people skills and communications.

Hair stylists are employed in shops that have as few as one or two employees, or as many as 20 or more. They may work in privately owned salons or in a salon that is part of a large or small chain of beauty shops. They may work in hotels, department stores, hospitals, nursing homes, resort areas, or on cruise ships. In recent years, hair professionals—especially in big cities—have gone to work in larger facilities, sometimes known as spas or institutes. One such business, for example, offers complete hair design/treatment/color services; manicures and pedicures; makeup; bridal services; spa services including different kinds of facials (thermal mask, antiaging, acne treatment), body treatments (exfoliating sea salt glow, herbal body wrap), scalp treatments, hydrotherapy water treatments, massage therapy, eyebrow/eyelash tweezing and tinting, and hair-removal treatments for all parts of the body; a fashion boutique; and even a wellness center staffed with board-certified physicians.

Those who operate their own shops must also take care of the details of business operations. Bills must be paid, orders placed, invoices and supplies checked, equipment serviced, and records and books kept. The selection, hiring, and termination of other workers are also the owner's responsibility. Like other responsible businesspeople, shop and salon owners are asked to participate in civic and community projects and activities.

Some stylists work for cosmetic/hair product companies. When the company introduces a new product or sells an existing product to a new salon, the company hires hair professionals as "freelance educators" to teach the stylists at the salon how to use the product. These workers travel around the country, teaching color techniques at salons and participating in demonstrations for the company at trade shows.

Cosmetologists must know how to market themselves to build their business. Whether they are self-employed or work for a salon or company, they are in business for themselves. It is the cosmetologist's skills and personality that will attract or fail to attract clients to that particular cosmetologist's chair.

Cosmetologists serving the public must have pleasant, friendly, yet professional attitudes, as well as skill, ability, and an interest in their craft. These qualities are necessary in building a following of steady customers. The nature of their work requires cosmetologists to be aware of the psychological aspects of dealing with all types of personalities. Sometimes this can require diplomacy skills and a high degree of tolerance in dealing with different clients.