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Barbers, Cosmetologists, and Other Personal Appearance Workers

Significant Points
  • 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 services.
  • 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 flexible schedules.
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.

Working Conditions

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 be worn.

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 27,000.

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 owner.

Job Outlook

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 reasons.

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.

Earnings [About this section] Back to Top Back to Top

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.

Related Occupations

Other workers who provide a personal service to clients and usually must be professionally licensed or certified include massage therapists and fitness workers.

Sources of Additional Information

A list of licensed training schools and licensing requirements for cosmetologists may be obtained from:

  • National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, 4401 Ford Ave., Suite 1300, Alexandria, VA 22302. Internet: http://www.naccas.org/

Information about a career in cosmetology is available from:

  • National Cosmetology Association, 401 N. Michigan Ave., 22nd floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Internet: http://www.ncacares.org/

For details on State licensing requirements and approved barber or cosmetology schools, contact the State boards of barber or cosmetology examiners in your State.

  • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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