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Cosmetologist: Overview of Becoming a Barber or Cosmetologist

Students interested in becoming a barber or cosmetologist need to meet educational and licensing requirements. Schools for these professions offer courses in technique, safety and marketing. Once licensed, barbers and cosmetologists may find work in several industries and may be self-employed.

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Becoming a Barber or Cosmetologist

Barbers and cosmetologists are appearance industry professionals. Barbers typically work with male clients by offering facial treatments, such as shaving and grooming. Cosmetologists work with male and female clients by cutting, styling and coloring hair and performing facial services. Both professionals may perform additional tasks, including creating and fitting hairpieces.

Barbers and cosmetologists may be self-employed, rent space at a salon, or work in appearance-conscious industries like modeling and acting. Besides good styling and barbering techniques, these individuals need good marketing and customer service skills to build a customer base that will increase their earnings. Barbers and cosmetologists may be asked for advice on at-home care.

Educational Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require barbers and cosmetologists to graduate from a state-licensed school (www.bls.gov). Most programs can typically be completed in one year or less, and the curricula consist of lectures with hands-on learning. Both programs include coursework in sanitation, hygiene, shampooing and shop management. After students have progressed to a satisfactory level, they may learn hair cutting and styling skills on mannequins, followed by live models. Students may have the opportunity to practice their skills in a supervised setting, since some schools have on-site salons or shops that are open to the public.

Cosmetology programs include training in hair styling, coloring and treatments that include relaxing or curling hair. Some programs may require training in esthetics, such as makeup, facials and massage. Barbering programs train students in shaving and facial grooming. Some barbering schools may include programs that incorporate hair cutting and styling courses.

Licensing Requirements

Barbers and cosmeticians are required to be licensed in every state. While licensing standards vary by state, most have a minimum requirement for age, education level and hours of training. In addition to meeting those requirements, prospective barbers and cosmetologists need to pass a state licensing exam. Some states may allow individuals to transfer a license from another state and may require that those seeking reciprocity to take a shorter training program that's specific to state laws and then take an exam.

Career Outlook

While jobs at high-end salons and shops will be competitive, reported the BLS in 2010, cosmetologists are expected to see average employment growth of 16% from 2010-2020. The BLS indicated that employment of barbers was expected to increase only 7% during that same time, which is slower than average growth. The projected job growth was attributed to the need to replace barbers and cosmetologists who leave the field.

Salary Information

In May 2012, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for a barber was $25,090, while hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists earned a median annual salary of $22,700. These professionals may earn additional money through tips from clients.

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