Hairdressing Career Information: Becoming a Hairdresser

Learn how to become a hairdresser. Research the job duties and education and licensing requirements to find out how to start a career in hairdressing.

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Do I Want to Be a Hairdresser?

Hairdressers cut, style and color hair, and they may also perform permanent wave, straightening and bleaching treatments. Also known as cosmetologists, these professionals advise their clients on their hair condition, styling and maintenance. They can work at beauty salons, day spas, hotels and resorts. Regardless of the work setting, they are responsible for meeting state health and safety standards, keeping their work areas clean and sterilizing equipment. This work often involves many hours spent standing, and protection must be used when working with various chemicals.

Job Requirements

To become a hairdresser, a high school diploma or equivalent is required, in addition to the completion of an approved cosmetology program to earn a license. The following table outlines common requirements to become a hairdresser, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level Completion of a state-licensed cosmetology training program
Degree Field Cosmetology
Licensure A state-issued license required in all states
Key Skills Strong communication, customer service and time management skills; creativity and dexterity
Additional Requirements Most hairdressers must be 16 years of age or older

Step 1: Attend a State-Licensed Cosmetology Program

Aspiring hairdressers must complete a state-approved cosmetology program in order to meet the licensing requirements needed to work. Several options exist for prospective hairdressers to pursue their education in the field. Some vocational high schools have a licensed cosmetology program available to students, which enables aspiring hairdressers to complete the necessary education while still attending high school. Alternatively, students can attend a trade school specializing in cosmetology to earn a certificate in the field, or they may attend a community college and earn an associate's degree in cosmetology.

Success Tip

  • Develop a portfolio. All hairdressers can benefit from a professional portfolio that showcases their best work. Hairdressers can begin compiling their portfolio while in school. A portfolio that contains a wide variety of hairstyles and demonstrates knowledge of various techniques may help a hairdresser find employment in salons after completing a program.

Step 2: Obtain Licensure

Upon completion of an approved program, hairdressers in all 50 states must obtain a state-issued license in order to work in a salon or run their own hairdressing business. While licensing requirements may vary slightly by state, the BLS reported that most require licensees to possess a high school diploma or equivalent, be at least 16 years of age and hold a certificate or degree from an approved cosmetology program. Applicants must additionally pass a two-part licensing exam. This exam typically consists of a written portion covering health and safety practices, as well as a practical examination in which applicants demonstrate their knowledge of hairdressing techniques and proper sanitation. An oral examination may also be necessary, depending on the state.

Step 3: Seek Employment

Hairdressers have the ability to find employment in a wide variety of settings, including salons, hotels and day spas. Additionally, the opportunity for entrepreneurship exists in hairdressing, and professionals can open their own businesses.

Step 4: Receive Continued Education

Several continuing education options are available to licensed hairdressers. Continuing education may help hairdressers maintain their licenses, stay current with industry trends and learn about new techniques that are developed alongside advances in technology.

Success Tip

  • Join a professional organization. Professional organizations for cosmetologists and hairdressers, such as the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), can be helpful resources for accessing continuing education options. In addition to continuing education options, the PBA offers hairdressers networking opportunities, access to government advocates, competitions in hairdressing and professional development resources.
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