Mortuary Cosmetologists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

People outside the field of cosmetology are often surprised at the diverse subjects that cosmetology students must learn. High school classes that are also part of a college preparatory curriculum will help you if you plan to pursue this career. Science classes, such as physics, chemistry, and biology, will give you a background that you will find valuable years down the road—both in cosmetology school, when you learn specifically how those disciplines apply to the trade, and as a practicing cosmetologist, when you will use your knowledge to solve problems independently. In addition to science classes, mathematics courses such as algebra and geometry will give you preparation in working with numbers and formulas. Again, these are skills you will use in your later career. Of course, classes such as English and speech will allow you to practice communication skills that will be important when you deal with a wide variety of people, some of whom will be experiencing a range of emotions. Also, because there is the possibility that you will be dealing with grieving families and friends of the deceased, consider taking psychology courses that will give you a greater understanding of people's reaction to stress and grief. Finally, if you have the opportunity, take art classes that give you a chance to work with design and color.

Several high schools in the United States offer cosmetology programs as part of their vocational curriculum. Any student planning to pursue a career in cosmetology should keep in mind that most cosmetology schools require a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma and set a minimum age of 16.

Postsecondary Training

Cosmetology schools, still popularly known as beauty schools, prepare students for different careers in cosmetology. Cosmetology schools generally require 1,000 to 1,500 hours of training, which generally can be completed in a year. Many schools have classes starting throughout the year. According to the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCAS), no schools currently offer specific program sequences for mortuary cosmetologists. Many schools offer classes on mortuary services as part of their cosmetology curriculum, but states don't require special licensing for mortuary cosmetologists beyond the standard cosmetology license.

Cosmetology schools offer training that leads to licenses in cosmetology (the full range of beauty services, including hair, skin, and nails), esthetics (which is limited to skin care, facial hair removal, and makeup), or nail technology (which is limited to care for the nails and cuticles on the hands and feet). Students of cosmetology can expect their curriculum to include classes in hair cutting and styling, permanent waves, tinting, eyebrow arching, facials, corrective makeup, manicuring, and pedicuring. These classes generally have students practice their new skills on mannequins or observe demonstrations. As students advance in their skills, they often practice on each other. Theory classes may include state law, chemistry, salon business management, and sterilization and sanitation. There are cosmetology schools in every state. 

As a rule, general cosmetology internships are part of postsecondary schooling, although they usually are not called internships. Students advance to hands-on training only after they have completed the classroom and theoretical courses. Many cosmetology schools operate their own salons and offer discounted cosmetology services to the public, provided by cosmetology students in a supervised setting. Students observe and perform a specific type and number of procedures on clients to fulfill requirements of the school and the state they wish to practice in. In addition to passing a written exam, most states require a minimum number of hours of training on live subjects. During school "in-salon training," cosmetologists can expect to work at least 100 hours per month. Situations vary, but many cosmetologists-in-training receive a percentage of the fee for their work. Instructors, in addition to supervising techniques, use this time to give hints on building clientele, such as handing out business cards and explaining other services to the client. This practical experience is vital to launching a successful cosmetology career.

Other Education or Training

The National Funeral Directors Association offers seminars on restorative techniques (including cosmetology) at its annual International Convention & Expo. The Professional Beauty Association offers general cosmetology continuing education classes, webinars, and workshops. Contact these organizatons for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

All 50 states require cosmetologists to be licensed. A person must be licensed—as a cosmetologist, funeral director, or embalmer—to perform cosmetic services on the deceased. In many funeral homes, unless the family requests special services or a certain cosmetologist, funeral home personnel do the necessary cosmetic preparations. Most mortuary schools require a class on restorative art that includes basic hair styling and makeup techniques. Restorative art also covers more difficult body preparation work for bodies that have suffered a trauma, such as makeup to camouflage bruises and scrapes or techniques to rebuild a nose.

Only those who have completed the recommended training are permitted to apply for a cosmetology license. Although requirements vary by state, each state requires an application, generally with a minimal fee, and passage of a written examination. The exam determines the applicant's knowledge of pertinent areas such as product chemistry, sanitary rules and regulations, sanitary procedures, chemical service procedures, knowledge of the anatomy of the skin, provisions and requirements of the state in which they wish to practice, and knowledge of labor and compensation laws.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience as a general cosmetologist is required to become a mortuary cosmetologist.

Cosmetology can be a physically and mentally demanding occupation, and the same applies to mortuary cosmetology. Cosmetologists are on their feet much of the day. Because of the hands-on aspect of the work, mortuary cosmetologists must overcome any fears they may have about working with the dead. Mortuary cosmetologists need to have physical endurance in the shoulders and arms and finger dexterity because much of the time is spent cutting, trimming, or styling hair. Although the mortuary cosmetologist will not be expected to do strenuous physical work, carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when damage is done to nerves in the wrist because of repetitive hand motion, is a concern for any cosmetologist. Other helpful attributes for a mortuary cosmetologist to have include a sense of form and balance, the ability to imitate styles if a family has provided pictures of how they want the deceased to appear, and tact and understanding when dealing with families. The mortuary cosmetologist should also have a strong business sense. Since much of this work is done on a freelance basis, the cosmetologist will need to manage his or her finances.