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Barber Vs. Cosmetologist: What's the Difference?

Barbers and cosmetologists work closely with hair, but cosmetologists provide additional beauty treatments. Both professionals must be state licensed, and many individuals in either profession are self-employed. Barbers earn a higher salary while cosmetologists can expect better job prospects.

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Differences Between Barbers and Cosmetologists

What's the difference between barbers and cosmetologists? Both professions cut, style and wash hair, but barbers are better known for cutting men's hair while cosmetologists have female and male clientele. In addition to hairstyling, cosmetologists perform pedicures, manicures, waxing treatments, facials and makeup application. Cosmetologists may also specialize in one or more of these beauty treatments.

Barber and Cosmetologist Training

Certificate or associate degree programs for barbers and cosmetologists typically last from 9-24 months and are offered through community colleges, technical schools and beauty schools. Aspiring barbers and cosmetologists may attend the same program, but their courses will differ slightly.

Both types of students will learn about hair styling and treatment techniques. However, barbers will learn more about trimming and shaving facial hair while cosmetologists will take courses on providing additional beauty treatments. Both routes offer customer service, marketing and salon management classes.

Job Outlook for Barbers and Cosmetologists

Both professions must obtain state licenses, which requires at least a high school diploma or GED and completion of an accredited barber or cosmetology school. State licensing examinations usually consist of a written test and a hands-on test where candidates demonstrate basic skills. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 50% of barbers and cosmetologists were self-employed in 2010.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that job prospects for cosmetologists would grow by 16% for the 2010-2020 decade, while employment opportunities for barbers would grow by 7% for that same time interval (www.bls.gov). The annual median wage for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists in 2012 was $22,700, and barbers earned $25,090. Thus, another set of differences between the professions is cosmetologists may enjoy a slightly more favorable career outlook while barbers may expect slightly higher pay.

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