Occupational Outlook of Barbers, Hair Stylists, Cosmetologists, and Other Personal Appearance Workers in the US

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There used to be a great piece on the “Occupational Outlook Of Barbers, Cosmetologists, and Other Personal Appearance Workers” on the website of the U.S. Department of Labor / Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unfortunately, it disappeared. Below is a revised & updated version of the original article.

Are you interested in beauty? Are you considering becoming a barber or cosmetologist? Read below article to learn more about this career path.

Table Of Contents

Key points

  • In the US, a state license is required for barbers, cosmetologists and other personal appearance workers, except for shampooers. The qualifications required can vary by state.
  • Nearly half of workers are self-employed, many enjoying flexible working hours.
  • The mean hourly wage for barbers and cosmetologists is $13.23.

What does the work involve?

The nature of work in this sector involves helping your clients to look and feel their best by enhancing their appearance through a variety of specialist services.

Barbers, hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists provide services mainly related to hair care. Their services include shampooing, cutting, coloring and styling hair, as well as scalp treatments and facial shaving.

occupational outlook of barbers

In many states, these professionals are also licensed to color, bleach or highlight hair, as well as offer permanent –wave services. Manicures, pedicures and other specialist treatments are commonly available as well.

Apart from providing these treatments many workers also offer consultation and advice related to hair care, make up and how to achieve the same effects at home.

More specific treatments can be offered by skin care specialists; including head and neck massages, skin treatments and waxing. Electrologists offer a similar service called electrolysis – the removal of hair using an electrolysis machine (not for the faint of heart).

Maintaining a high level of hygiene is an important aspect of this type of work. Keeping work areas clean and sterilizing instruments in particular. As workers start to perform more advanced treatments, it is also important to keep good track of formulas used for wave treatments and colorings. This also lends itself well to record keeping for any personal appearance works that end up running their own business. At which point managerial duties also become important; not limited to hiring, firing and supervising other workers.

Selling hair care products and cosmetics is another aspect of this work that can be a great way to make additional money and provide a better experience for the customer.

Working Conditions

how to become a barberSurroundings are normally clean and well ventilated with good lighting and a pleasant working environment. Being on your feet is a big part of this job, so it is important to be in good health and have good stamina for this.

Working with chemicals on a regular basis can pose a health risk for those with allergies or sensitive skin. Plastic gloves and other safety equipment is normally available to prevent these problems occurring.

A normal working week is 40 hours, with 32 percent of cosmetologists and 17 percent of barbers working part-time. For self-employed workers, you can expect the hours to be much longer, at least initially. Once you start to hire other members of staff and become established, there is the possibility of working less than 40 hours per week.

Seeing as evening and weekends are often the busiest times for a salon, it is normal to work at these times. Breaks are normally taken at quieter times during the day when there are fewer customers.

Getting a License

All states require barbers, cosmetologists and personal appearance workers to be licensed, with the exception of shampooers. This means graduating from a state-licensed barber or cosmetology school and being at least 16 years old. Some states also require a physical examination. Some states require a high school education, while others do not.

In some states an apprenticeship is a great way to get into the industry, bypassing the need to graduate from licensed school, the numbers of workers who have become qualified this way is still relatively low.

Obtaining a license involves passing a written test and performing basic barbering and cosmetology skills under surveillance. Once obtained, it is possible to receive an equivalent license in other states without additional tests or training. Please check with the state you are interested in working in as these agreements are still not very common.

Some cosmetology training can be credited towards a barbering license and vice-versa. Some states have combined the two into a single hairstyling license. Services such as manicures, pedicures etc. also require a separate license.

How To Become A Barber Or Hair Stylist

Public and private schools offer daytime and evening courses in barbering and cosmetology. Full-time programs can last anywhere from 9 to 24 months, but those looking to train in a specific areas such as manicuring can normally qualify much quicker.

The actual training undertaken at schools normally involves Lectures, classroom demonstrations and supervised treatments on volunteers who come to the school. Many schools also offer business lessons for those interested in running their own salon.

how to become a cosmetologist

Veteran stylists and personal appearance specialists can also take advanced courses at these schools for treatments such as wig fitting and other more challenging procedures.

Apprenticeships can last anywhere from 1 to 3 years, it would be a good idea to ask at local salons if they are willing to take an apprentice and how long it would take to get qualified.

Asides from the qualifications required to enter this profession, you need to be interested in continuous self-study as trends and techniques are often changing in the industry. This shouldn’t be a problem if you have a genuine interest in becoming a barber or cosmetologists as the things you learn will be interesting and help you to become better at the work you do. You are also likely to be surrounded by other people who are happy to share their knowledge and advice with you, making the process much more enjoyable.

What Kind of Person Would Do Well?

becoming a hair stylistA good understanding of fashion, art and technical design to help you keep up with trends and even develop your own. Good personal image is important to demonstrate to others you are knowledgeable about what it takes to make others look good.

You should enjoy working with the public and be able to follow instructions carefully so you can deliver the best possible result for your clients. An interest in business would also make you an ideal candidate to run your own business one day.

An excellent work ethic is also important and you will need to prove yourself in the early days. Once you have done this and start to become more established, other will come to you for advice and maybe even ask you for work if you have established your own business.

How Much Can I Earn?

This can depend on various factors such as the size and reputation of a salon, how well clients tip and how much competition in the local area.

The most common way of earning is a salary based on the number of hours worked. There is also the possibility of earning commissions based on the price of services offered and products sold, with some salons paying bonuses based on new clients attracted to the salon.

The average hourly wage as of May 2012 is $13.23, with the average salary for workers in these professions being $27,520. Please bear in mind this figure can vary according to state, experience and commission earned.

Top paying states include District of Colombia ($44,530), Minnesota ($40,770), Colorado ($39,520), Alaska ($36,610) and Illinois ($35,340).

Job Outlook

Overall employment for barbers, cosmetologists and personal appearance workers is expected to grow as fast as the average through 2014. As with any profession, opportunities will also arise from workers moving to other professions, retiring and leaving the labor force.

The states with the highest number of barbers, cosmetologists and personal appearance workers as of May 2012 are:

  • Texas (1,750)
  • New York (1,070)
  • California (1,030)
  • New Jersey (840)
  • Indiana (500)

Further Reading

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