Written by Ashley Murphy

Cosmetology is the study and application of beauty treatments, including hair styling, skin care, cosmetics, manicures/pedicures, and permanent or non-permanent hair removal. Students can study a wide range of beauty treatments or specialize in a specific are, and there are plenty of career choices for qualified cosmetologists, including barber, hair color specialist, skin care consultants, while others move into more technical professions like aesthetics. Before practicing as a licensed aesthetician, students must complete between 260–1500 hours of training and pass a written and practical exam, although the requirements differ depending on where you would like to work.

Aestheticians focus on treating skin-related issues, such as acne, hyperpigmentation, and signs of aging, but they are also trained to perform technical procedures like cosmetic electrotherapy, low-level ultrasound treatments, and microcurrents, which are also referred to as non-surgical facelifts. Some go onto complete postgraduate courses and work under the supervision of a dermatologist to treat more complex skin diseases.

A significant number of beauty specialists work on a self-employed basis, either as a sole trader or a freelancer, while some set up their own salons or beauty spas. And if you are attracted to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood or the fashion world, then cosmetology might be the profession for you. The most skilled beauty and hair specialists can find work as a make-up artist to the stars, although there's lots of competition for these sought after jobs. A make-up artist or hairstylist at a large film or TV production can earn around $59,300 a year.

Cosmetology is a growing industry with plenty of long-term career options. Since 2016, over 800,000 cosmetology graduates have started a new career in beauty, and the number is set to carry on rising. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a significantly higher-than-average 13% job growth in the beauty industry between now and 2026.

So if you're interested in helping people look and feel their best, here's what you need to know about cosmetology.

How to become a cosmetologist

Training and educational requirements vary depending on your chosen profession or where your studying or working. However, in the US, cosmetology is a regulated profession that requires all practitioners to be certified by state licensing boards. Again, this differs from state to state, but, generally speaking, the minimum age requirements are between 16-18. You will also need a high school diploma or GED, although some states accept a tenth-grade education.

After completing a set number of training hours, you will need to pass two exams, one written and one practical. The last prerequisite is a certificate to prove you have completed a course in preventing the transference of infectious diseases.

You can train as a cosmetologist at a beauty school, a junior college, or a vocational school. Alternatively, many employers provide work-based apprenticeship programs that combine on-the-job training with academic study. But whatever option you choose, a certificate or diploma takes around 12-18 months to complete, while associate's degrees usually require two years of study.

An associate's degree isn't essential to become a beauty specialist. However, if you are planning to set up your own salon or beauty spa, then a longer course of study is probably the best option, As well as learning all the fundamentals of beauty treatment, you will also take modules in business management, marketing, and business administration. Associate's degrees are also a stepping stone for people interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in spa management or further postgraduate courses in subjects like advanced skincare and dermatology.

But becoming a beauty specialist isn't all about your technical skills. Cosmetology is a personal service, so you will need plenty of people skills! Cosmetologists spend the majority of their day working with clients, which requires a friendly and outgoing disposition, active listening skills, and the ability to empathize and understand customers' concerns and expectations.

Benefits of studying cosmetology

If you are a people person who thrives off making others happy, then cosmetology is likely to be a rewarding career option. And it's about so much more than simply making people look ‘beautiful’. Skincare specialists and aestheticians help people suffering from long term health issues like acne or hyperpigmentation, which can have a negative impact on their self-confidence and, ultimately, their mental health. Helping people feel better about their appearance is also a way of boosting their self-esteem and self-worth. After all, true beauty and wellbeing are also about how you feel, rather than just how you look.

Cosmetology also requires some artistic flair, making it an excellent career for creative-minded people. The best make-up artists and hair stylists build their reputations on coming up with interesting variations on current trends or creating new ones for everyone else to follow. And the most successful practitioners can see their work transferred onto cinema screens or giant billboards advertising high-end fashion lines.

In addition to a range of employed positions, there's the chance to set-up your own independent, successful business. Owning and building a salon requires years of hard work and dedication, but the financial and personal reward can be huge. Alternatively, working as a sole trader or freelancer provides the kind of flexibility that many people crave. Freelancers can source their own clients, set their business hours, and work in a way that suits them best. It is also a great way to balance your work life with other responsibilities or commitments, such as raising a family.

A few things to consider

Cosmetology is a rewarding and secure career, but, like any job, there are a few occupational hazards to consider. Firstly, it's a physically demanding role. Hair stylists and beauticians spend the majority of the day on their feet, and working in a salon often requires long weekend and evening shifts. Secondly, cosmetologists work with a range of dyes, shampoos, and other hair products that may contain dangerous chemicals. Overexposure or poor working practices can lead to health problems like skin irritation, eye infections, and allergies. And if they are inadvertently consumed, many of these chemicals can cause organ failure, or even worse. But don't start panicking; you will receive plenty of training during your diploma to ensure you know how to handle potentially dangerous chemicals safely.

None of this should deter you from pursuing a career in beauty, but it's important to note that every beauty specialist has a duty of care to themselves, their colleagues, and their clients.

A secure career

The beauty industry is a billion-dollar, global business. New products and treatments are continually in development as businesses and practitioners try to increase their market share and satisfy customer demand. Moreover, diverse beauty standards, the rise of social media, and the rapid growth of the male-grooming sector are all sure signs that cosmetologists will never be short of places to work or clients to service. It's also one of the very few recession-proof industries. In fact, during the last UK economic downturn, the beauty industry continued to grow. Millions of people view beauty products and services as vital. This is all good news for anybody studying, or planning to study, cosmetology; it means a huge range of job prospects with decent salaries and long-term job security.

Cosmetology includes a broad range of job roles and careers. As such, how much you earn depends on your area of expertise. For example, hair stylists make between $18,000 to $24,000 per annum, while the top 10% make as much as $55,000. This salary range is a good benchmark for most other cosmetology careers, although skin care specialists with a master's degree or a PhD can earn significantly more, especially if they move into the lucrative private medical sector.

Once you've gained years of experience, you can share your skills and knowledge with the next generation of practitioners. The average salary for a cosmetology teacher is around $52,600. Plus, for the more ambitious and entrepreneurial types, there's a chance to earn some extra income by starting your own range of beauty products. You will need to complete a few years of formal education before you understand the science behind creating products, but it's an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the industry.

Opting to study cosmetology is the first step towards a successful, secure, and fun career. Firstly, it’s a world away from the 9-5 office routine. And while it requires some unsociable working hours and long, tiring shifts, you will likely meet lots of interesting and like-minded people along the way. For many beauty experts and stylists, cosmetology isn't just a job or a career, it’s a way of life.

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