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Education and Training: Vocational/technical school; license

Salary: Median—$19,800 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Cosmetologists care for people's hair, skin, and nails. They are also called beauty operators, hairdressers, or beauticians. Most cosmetologists work in beauty salons, and many have their own businesses. Some work in unisex shops, barbershops, department stores, hospitals, spas, resorts, and hotels. Cosmetologists work with many types of beauty products and often sell them at their salons as well.

Many cosmetologists work chiefly with hair. They cut, shampoo, condition, style, color, permanent wave, or straighten it. They use a variety of chemical solutions, such as bleaches and dyes. They use equipment such as scissors, clippers, curlers, straightening irons, and dryers to give their customers fashionable hairstyles. Some cosmetologists care for wigs and hairpieces and in some cases sell them. Often cosmetologists specialize in one procedure, such as hair cutting or coloring.

Cosmetologists also care for the skin and nails. They give scalp treatments, massages, and facials. They use a variety of special creams and lotions. They also shape eyebrows and remove unwanted hair from the face. They give demonstrations and advice on the use of makeup. Cosmetologists who care for the nails, often called manicurists, soften and trim the cuticles. They shape the nails with files or emery boards and apply nail polish.

Cosmetologists must keep their work area and equipment clean. They may have other duties, such as answering the telephone or making appointments. They often recommend and sell a variety of grooming products, such as cosmetics or hairbrushes. Sometimes they take care of the day-to-day concerns involved in running a small business. For example, they may supervise other workers, order supplies, and keep records.

Education and Training Requirements

Prospective cosmetologists can get training in a public or private vocational school. A full-time course usually takes from six to twelve months to complete. Courses cover hygiene, bacteriology, cosmetic chemistry, psychology, and sales techniques. Evening courses are available, but the program takes longer to complete. Some vocational schools offer the subjects needed for a high school diploma in addition to training in cosmetology. These programs take two or three years to complete. Cosmetologists may also get their training in one-or two-year apprenticeship programs.

All states require cosmetologists to be licensed. However, requirements for a license vary from state to state. In most states candidates must be at least sixteen years old, in good health, and a graduate of an approved cosmetology school. They must also pass a state licensing examination. This test usually includes both a written part and a practical demonstration of skills. There may even be an oral exam in which candidates are asked to explain particular cosmetology procedures. The license must be renewed every year or every two years.

Getting the Job

Most schools of cosmetology help their students find jobs. Some of these schools offer a lifetime placement service so that graduates can return and receive assistance finding work or continuing their studies. The reputation of a school can greatly enhance a graduate's job opportunities. Professional associations, newspaper classifieds, and job banks on the Internet are also good sources of employment information.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Cosmetologists can advance by improving their skills and building up their clientele. They can specialize in one procedure, such as hair cutting or manicures, or they can become a manager or owner of a beauty salon. They need a small investment to start their own business. Loans are available and equipment can be rented. A few cosmetologists teach at schools of cosmetology or work as inspectors for state cosmetology boards. Others work for cosmetics manufacturers, demonstrating or selling their products.

The employment outlook is good through the year 2014 as a result of increased population, incomes, and demand for cosmetology services. There will also be openings to replace workers who leave the field. Cosmetologists who can provide a broad range of services will have the best opportunities.

Working Conditions

Beauty salons are usually well-lighted, cheerful places. In small salons a cosmetologist may do everything from shampooing and manicuring to answering the telephone and sweeping up. In large shops workers may specialize in one area, such as hair cutting or coloring.

Many cosmetologists work more than forty hours a week, including Saturdays and one or two evenings. Others work part time, usually during the end of the week when beauty salons are the busiest. Cosmetologists have to stand for many hours and sometimes use harsh chemicals. They can protect themselves by wearing rubber gloves. Cosmetologists must be able to work well with their hands and should have a good sense of style. They also need to keep up with the latest fashions in hairstyling and cosmetics and interact well with all kinds of customers. Some cosmetologists are union members.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association of Cosmetology Schools
15825 N. 71st St., Ste. 100
Scottsdale, AZ 85254-1521
(800) 831-1086

Association of Cosmetologists and Hairdressers
1811 Monroe St.
Dearborn, MI 48124-3013
(313) 563-0360

National Cosmetology Association
401 N. Michigan Ave., 22nd Fl.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 527-6765

Earnings and Benefits

Cosmetologists may receive wages or be paid a commission, which is a percentage of the fee charged for services rendered. They receive tips as well. Their earnings depend on where they work, their skill, and the tipping habits of their customers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly income of cosmetologists is $19,800, including commission and tips. Self-employed cosmetologists and those who work for small beauty salons must provide their own benefits. Benefits for cosmetologists employed by large salons and department stores sometimes include paid vacations and health insurance.