Barbers, Cosmetologists, and Other Personal Appearance Workers
Job opportunities generally should be good, but competition
is expected for jobs and clients at higher paying salons; opportunities
will be best for those licensed to provide a broad range of
A State license is required for barbers, cosmetologists, and
most other personal appearance workers, with the exception of
shampooers; qualifications vary by State.
About 48 percent of workers are self-employed; many also work
Nature of the Work
Barbers and cosmetologists, also called hairdressers and
hairstylists, provide hair care services to enhance the
appearance of consumers. Other personal appearance workers, such
as manicurists and pedicurists, shampooers, and
skin care specialists provide specialized services that
help clients look and feel their best.
Barbers cut, trim, shampoo, and style hair. They also
fit hairpieces and offer scalp treatments and facial shaving.
In many States, barbers are licensed to color, bleach, or highlight
hair and to offer permanent-wave services. Many barbers also provide
skin care and nail treatments.
Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists offer beauty
services, such as shampooing, cutting, coloring, and styling hair.
They may advise clients on how to care for their hair, how to
straighten their hair or give it a permanent wave, or how to lighten
or darken their hair color. In addition, cosmetologists may be
trained to give manicures, pedicures, and scalp and facial treatments;
provide makeup analysis; and clean and style wigs and hairpieces.
A number of workers offer specialized services. Manicurists
and pedicurists, called nail technicians in some States,
work exclusively on nails and provide manicures, pedicures, coloring,
and nail extensions to clients. Another group of specialists is
skin care specialists, or estheticians, who cleanse
and beautify the skin by giving facials, full-body treatments,
and head and neck massages and by removing hair through waxing.
Electrologists use an electrolysis machine to remove hair.
Finally, in some larger salons, shampooers specialize in
shampooing and conditioning hair.
In addition to working with clients, personal appearance workers
are expected to maintain clean work areas and sanitize all their
work instruments. They may make appointments and keep records
of hair color and permanent-wave formulas used by their regular
clients. A growing number actively sell hair care products and
other cosmetic supplies. Barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal
appearance workers who operate their own salons have managerial
duties that may include hiring, supervising, and firing workers,
as well as keeping business and inventory records, ordering supplies,
and arranging for advertising.
Barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal appearance workers
usually work in clean, pleasant surroundings with good lighting
and ventilation. Good health and stamina are important, because
these workers are on their feet for most of their shift. Prolonged
exposure to some hair and nail chemicals may cause irritation,
so protective clothing, such as plastic gloves or aprons, may
Most full-time barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal appearance
workers put in a 40-hour week, but longer hours are common, especially
among self-employed workers. Work schedules may include evenings
and weekends, the times when beauty salons and barbershops are
busiest. Barbers and cosmetologists generally work on weekends
and during lunch and evening hours; as a result, they may arrange
to take breaks during less busy times. About 32 percent of cosmetologists
and 17 percent of barbers work part time, and 14 percent of cosmetologists
and 17 percent of barbers have variable schedules.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All States require barbers, cosmetologists, and most other personal
appearance workers, with the exception of shampooers, to be licensed;
however, qualifications for a license vary by State. Generally,
a person must have graduated from a State-licensed barber or cosmetology
school and be at least 16 years old. A few States require applicants
to pass a physical examination. Some States require graduation
from high school, while others require as little as an eighth-grade
education. In a few States, the completion of an apprenticeship
can substitute for graduation from a school, but very few barbers
or cosmetologists learn their skills in this way. Applicants for
a license usually are required to pass a written test and demonstrate
an ability to perform basic barbering or cosmetology services.
Some States have reciprocity agreements that allow licensed barbers
and cosmetologists to obtain a license in a different State without
additional formal training. Such agreements are uncommon, however,
and most States do not recognize training or licenses obtained
from a different State. Consequently, persons who wish to work
in a particular State should review the laws of that State before
entering a training program.
Public and private vocational schools offer daytime or evening
classes in barbering and cosmetology. Full-time programs in barbering
and cosmetology usually last 9 to 24 months, but training for
manicurists and pedicurists, skin care specialists, and electrologists
requires significantly less time. An apprenticeship program can
last from 1 to 3 years. Shampooers generally do not need formal
training or a license. Formal training programs include classroom
study, demonstrations, and practical work. Students study the
basic services—cutting and styling hair, chemically treating hair,
shaving customers, and giving hair and scalp treatments—and, under
supervision, practice on customers in school “clinics.” Students
attend lectures on the use and care of instruments, sanitation
and hygiene, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and the recognition
of simple skin ailments. Instruction also is provided in communication,
sales, and general business practices. Experienced barbers and
cosmetologists may take advanced courses in hairstyling, coloring,
the sale and service of wigs and hairpieces, and sales and marketing.
After graduating from a training program, students can take a
State licensing examination, which consists of a written test
and, in some cases, a practical test of styling skills based on
established performance criteria. A few States include an oral
examination in which applicants are asked to explain the procedures
they are following while taking the practical test. In many States,
cosmetology training may be credited toward a barbering license,
and vice versa. A few States combine the two licenses into one
hairstyling license. Many States require separate licensing examinations
for manicurists, pedicurists, and skin care specialists.
For many barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal appearance
workers, formal training and a license are only the first steps
in a career that requires years of continuing education. Personal
appearance workers must keep abreast of the latest fashions and
beauty techniques as hairstyles change, new products are developed,
and services expand to meet clients’ needs. They attend training
at salons, cosmetology schools, or industry trade shows. Through
workshops and demonstrations of the latest techniques, industry
representatives introduce cosmetologists to a wide range of products
and services. As retail sales become an increasingly important
part of salons’ revenue, the ability to be an effective salesperson
becomes ever more vital for salon workers.
Successful personal appearance workers should have an understanding
of fashion, art, and technical design. They should enjoy working
with the public and be willing and able to follow clients’ instructions.
Communication, image, and attitude play an important role in career
success. Some cosmetology schools consider “people skills” to
be such an integral part of the job that they require coursework
in that area. Business skills are important for those who plan
to operate their own salons.
During their first months on the job, new workers are given relatively
simple tasks or are assigned the simplest procedures. Once they
have demonstrated their skills, they are gradually permitted to
perform more complicated tasks, such as coloring hair or applying
permanent waves. As they continue to work in the field, more training
usually is required to learn the techniques particular to each
salon and to build on the basics learned in cosmetology school.
Advancement usually takes the form of higher earnings as barbers
and cosmetologists gain experience and build a steady clientele.
Some barbers and cosmetologists manage large salons, lease booth
space in salons, or open their own salons after several years
of experience. Others teach in barber or cosmetology schools or
provide training through vocational schools. Still others advance
to become sales representatives, image or fashion consultants,
or examiners for State licensing boards.
Barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal appearance workers
held about 790,000 jobs in 2004. Of these, barbers, hairdressers,
hairstylists, and cosmetologists held 670,000 jobs, manicurists
and pedicurists 60,000, skin care specialists 30,000, and shampooers
Most of these workers are employed in beauty salons or barber
shops, but they also are found in nail salons, day and resort
spas, department stores, nursing and other residential care homes,
and drug and cosmetics stores. Nearly every town has a barbershop
or beauty salon, but employment in this occupation is concentrated
in the most populous cities and States.
About 48 percent of all barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal
appearance workers are self-employed. Many own their own salon,
but a growing number lease booth space or a chair from the salon’s
Job opportunities generally should be good. However, competition
is expected for jobs and clients at higher paying salons as applicants
compete with a large pool of licensed and experienced cosmetologists
for these positions. Opportunities will be best for those with
previous experience and for those licensed to provide a broad
range of services.
Overall employment of barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal
appearance workers is projected to grow about as fast as the average
for all occupations through 2014, because of an increasing population,
rising incomes, and growing demand for personal appearance services.
In addition to those arising from job growth, numerous job openings
will come about from the need to replace workers who transfer
to other occupations, retire, or leave the labor force for other
Employment trends are expected to vary among the different occupational
specialties. On the one hand, slower-than-average growth is expected
in employment of barbers because of the large number of retirements
expected over the 2004–14 projection period and because of the
relatively small number of cosmetology school graduates opting
to obtain barbering licenses. On the other hand, employment of
hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists should grow about
as fast as the average for all workers because many now cut and
style both men’s and women’s hair and because the demand for hair
treatment by teens and aging baby boomers is expected to remain
steady or even grow.
Continued growth in the number of nail salons and full-service
day spas will generate numerous job openings for manicurists,
pedicurists, skin care specialists, and shampooers. Employment
of manicurists, pedicurists, and skin care specialists will grow
faster than the average, while employment of shampooers will grow
about as fast as the average. Nail salons specialize in providing
manicures and pedicures. Day spas typically provide a full range
of services, including beauty wraps, manicures and pedicures,
facials, and massages.
A number of factors, including the size and location of the salon,
clients’ tipping habits, and competition from other barber shops
and salons, determine the total income of barbers, cosmetologists,
and other personal appearance workers. They may receive commissions
based on the price of the service, or a salary based on the number
of hours worked, and many receive commissions on the products
they sell. In addition, some salons pay bonuses to employees who
bring in new business. A cosmetologist’s or barber’s initiative
and ability to attract and hold regular clients also are key factors
in determining his or her earnings. Earnings for entry-level workers
are usually low; however, for those who stay in the profession,
earnings can be considerably higher.
Although some salons offer paid vacations and medical benefits,
many self-employed and part-time workers in this occupation do
not enjoy such benefits.
Median annual earnings in May 2004 for salaried hairdressers,
hairstylists, and cosmetologists, including tips and commission,
were $19,800. The middle 50 percent earned between $ 15,480 and
$26,600. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12,920, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $35,990.
Median annual earnings in May 2004 for salaried barbers, including
tips, were $21,200. The middle 50 percent earned between $15,380
and $30,390. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12,950, and
the highest 10 percent earned more than $43,170.
Among skin care specialists, median annual earnings, including
tips, were $ 24,010, for manicurists and pedicurists $18,500,
and for shampooers $14,610.