Hairdressers, stylists and barbers play an important role in keeping people looking their best. Students who complete training programs at cosmetology schools or vocational schools for cosmetology often go to work in salons, where they rent stall space and more or less work as self-employed contractors doing haircuts, manicures, pedicures and skin treatments. Others find their niche working as professional stylists in luxury resorts, hotels and spas. A lucky few crack the ranks of the entertainment industry to command some of the highest salaries in the industry.
Specialty careers in the field of cosmetology
Working as hair cutters or barbers is a common career path for students who enroll in vocational schools for cosmetology, but there are several specialties in the field that students can pursue, including:
- Hair and makeup styling
- Esthiology, or skin care
- Electrology, or hair removal
The most common educational path for students in each of these fields is to complete non-degree certificate or diploma programs at cosmetology schools and earn state licensure or certification, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) reports.
Cosmetology and hair cutting certifications and degrees
According to the BLS, every state requires cosmetologists to complete a state-approved education program and pass a licensing examination. The same was true as of 2014 for skin care specialists in all states except Connecticut, the BLS says. Students of cosmetology schools often gain valuable work and customer-service experience from school clients who enjoy the tradeoff of receiving beauty treatments and haircuts from students at rates much lower than upscale salons or hair-cutting retail chains.
Information for each state's licensing requirements can be found through the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology, the Professional Beauty Association and the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, the BLS reports.
Curriculum at cosmetology schools typically focuses on proper ways to perform client services, such as hair cutting, shampooing and coloring techniques, among others. Coursework usually is a mix of classroom study and hands-on lab work. Students also should expect to learn about the physiological properties of the hair and scalp, as well as product and chemical knowledge. Curriculum for estheticians and other specialty fields is more specific to working in nail or skin care and the products used in those fields.
Cosmetology salaries and career outlook
Hairdressers and stylists earned national median hourly wages of $11.12 in May of 2013, the BLS reports. National average hourly wages were highest in the greater San Francisco Bay Area ($18.86) and the Greater Seattle area ($18.84). Areas and states with the highest average wages were:
- Washington, D.C., $21.07
- Hawaii, $17.35
- Delaware, $17.16
Barbers earned national median hourly wages of $12.03 in May 2013. Employment is highest in the country's most populous states, such as New York, Texas and California, the BLS reports. Illinois, Minnesota and Colorado were the top-paying states for barbers.
Estheticians enjoyed national median hourly wages of $13.92 in May 2013, as reported by the BLS. Wages were highest in the following states during that time:
- New Hampshire, $20.34
- Washington, D.C., $19.14
- Arkansas, $18.87
Students who enroll in vocational schools for cosmetology should enjoy helping people look their best. The job also requires knowledge of standard business management practices, such as scheduling, record keeping, inventory control and advertising.
Barbers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes395011.htm
Barbers, Hairdressers and Cosmetologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/barbers-hairdressers-and-cosmetologists.htm
Hairdressers, Hairstylists and Cosmetologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes395012.htm
Skin Care Specialists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes395094.htm
Skin Care Specialists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/skincare-specialists.htm