Becoming a Hair Stylist Careers & Salary Outlook

What is a Hair Stylist and What do They do?


Everyone wants to look good. We all spend a fair amount of time choosing our clothes, grooming ourselves, and otherwise sprucing up. At least, there are times when we all need to clean up, such as when it comes time to get married, go to church, or attend a very special monster truck rally. Style is important to many people. This is where hair stylists and their affiliated colleagues come in and enhance our lives.

This profession is one that has changed very little in light of the technological revolution that has impacted so many other fields. Hair stylists still rely on scissors, combs, and blow dryers to do their work. They may have websites and accept cryptocurrency in payment, but their fundamental skills have changed very little over the years.

This page is dedicated to the salon and hair styling profession. The information below should help any aspiring stylists discover more about their future profession including information on licensure, professional associations, and educational opportunities. Please continue to read and learn more about how to become a hair stylist.

A hair stylist is a professional who helps people change or maintain their hair length and style. Hair stylists help people look their best for job interviews, meetings, weddings, and first dates. They are skilled at procedures such as permanent treatments, hair extensions, hair coloring, and more. They are specially skilled and know how to style hair and most hold a hair stylist license. On top of this, hair stylists may sell and consult with clients as to which beauty products will work the best for them.

Many hair stylists work in beauty salons or spas where they often rent space in exchange for the marketing and other resources. They also need to be comfortable working in very close quarters with people all day long. Many hair stylists even form close friendships with their clients, some of whom return regularly for years, and even bring their children in to have their hair done.

As a hairdresser's career advances, they often add new skill sets to their repertoire. Some become specialists in certain types of hair or certain treatments. A hair stylist who builds a reputation as being expert at working with curly hair or hair dye, for instance, is sure to build a loyal clientele. Once they have built a robust clientele, many hair stylists open their own hair salons and rent space to other professionals in the field. Some even go solo and see clients in their own space, whether in their own home or a rented space.

Steps to Become a Hair Stylist


  • Step 1: Education Requirements

  • Step 2: Internship or Apprentice

  • Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

  • Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

Steps to Become a Hair Stylist Officer

Step 1: Education Requirements

The educational requirements for becoming a hair stylists or hairdresser are remarkably few. Stylists need only have a high school diploma or hold a General Equivalency Degree (GED) to attend cosmetology school. The training to become a stylists, by way of a dedicated school of cosmetology or a program through a local community college or vocational school, generally takes under a year to complete.

However, some community colleges and vocational schools offer students a full associate of applied arts degree. This degree provides holders with college credits they can use later on should they decide to work towards a full bachelor's degree. Community colleges may also offer courses that stylists can use later such as accounting, marketing, and interpersonal communications. Those courses can help stylists become the best businesspeople possible. In any case, state licensure commonly requires only that aspiring stylists complete degrees in cosmetology, a certificate in esthetics, or complete a program in manicuring/nail technology.

Students should always consult their state's board of cosmetology or other regulatory agency to ensure that their education leads to their desired licensure and career. Most cosmetology schools will post their credentials in a prominent location so that students are sure to understand that a degree from their organization will yield a license. State supported community colleges or vocational schools often qualify as a condition of their operations.

Step 2: Internship or Apprentice

An internship or apprentice program is invaluable in many trades. While that terminology may not be found in the cosmetology field, aspiring stylists often have the opportunity to practice their trade prior to entering the working world. In fact, many schools of cosmetology offer reduced-rate styling and haircuts to the general public so that students can practice. Prior to that, students work on wigs to get a feel for various styles, hair types, etc.

Depending on the salon, they might take a young stylist under their wing and supervise them closely while they perfect their craft. Those who desire to work in highly specialized arenas, such as performing arts, might seek out a master who they feel is particularly skilled and ask to work with them.

Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

Each state has its own licensing board for hairdressers, stylists, cosmetologists, and manicurists. Thus, each state will have its own set of criteria for stylists to follow in order to become licensed. Apart from the educational requirement, stylists seldom have much problem satisfying their state board. However, some states may still not regulate this industry and may instead allow non-licensed practitioners to cut hair. Those states that do require licensure are often known to require a diploma from a reputable, licensed school or institute, fees, and perhaps a background check.

Hair stylists rarely, if ever, need to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licenses. State boards will require that professionals renew their credentials periodically with a simple set of paperwork and a small fee. However, those who have been found acting unethically or illegally may find that their license is suspended or revoked. Stylists should always consult their state regulatory agency for updated criteria.

Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

Even so, nearly every stylist wishes to continue their growth and development as cosmetology professionals. In order to do so, they need to seek formal or other training. While most every stylists needs to attend a cosmetology school and qualify for licensure, they can build extra skills outside of that environment. There may be local stylists who are trained and licensed to teach individuals or small groups in new techniques. For instance, a stylist may desire to expand their practice by offering services such as hair extensions, coloring, or hair straightening. They might find a fellow practitioner who is qualified to teach these skills and thus enhance their professional practice.

Stylists also need to maintain their practice by renewing their license periodically. The requirements for this are few for cosmetologists, stylists, and manicurists. States often require little more than a small fee and paperwork, perhaps even a renewed background check, depending on the state.

Where Do Hair Stylists Work?


Hair stylists have a wide range of options when it comes to where they can work. For those who are fresh out of cosmetology school, a shop in the local shopping mall might provide a first job. These shops often have high volume and new professionals are able to hone their skills in a short period of time.

Hair stylists also work in independent salons. Each of these shops have their own character and thus offer stylists the opportunity to find their own niche. Independent salons may seek out stylists who have particular expertise to offer their clients. These smaller shops also look for stylists who already have a significant list of clients who are assumed to follow them into the new shop.

Hair stylists can also do work for spas, resorts, funeral homes, or on film/television sets. For those who live in larger towns, it may be possible to land work styling hair and wigs for theatre groups or independent filmmakers.

Why Become a Hair Stylist?


There are many reasons to become a hair stylist. The first reason is often a desire to help people look their best. Those who gravitate to fashion magazines and who have a passion for fashion may be particularly well-suited to the field. It’s also a great job for those who have a gift for gab and who can work in close contact with the public as a primary function of their full-time career.

The field of cosmetology is also terrific for those who have an entrepreneurial spirit. Hair stylists are most often independent contractors who rent their space form a salon owner. Not surprisingly, many of them develop their clientele and skill sets and open their own shops. It's also relatively easy to get started as a stylist. While many states do require a license that is earned as a result of cosmetology school, the barrier to entry in those schools is relatively small.

Professional Organizations


Professional stylists are urged to find an organization that helps them find the resources and network they need to thrive. Each of these organizations offers something different, but stylists will find things such as professional liability insurance, discounts on products, tools to help grow a business of any size, and educational materials to help elevate their skills. Many of these organizations are geared toward independent stylists who may operate as LLCs, a sole-proprietorship, or salons full of other hair styling professionals.

While membership in one of these organizations is not mandatory, they can be very helpful throughout the course of a career. Some stylists join as students for the scholarship opportunities but then renew their memberships for the support they find in a professional association.

  • Salon Association:
    This organization is for salon owners who need help with marketing tools such as websites, email marketing, loyalty cards, and more. The organization also provides a hand newsletter for members as well as special offers from salon vendors.
  • Associated Hair Professionals:
    This organization is for professional stylists, students, instructors, and employers who are in involved in the business of hair. Members can sign up for insurance packages, educational opportunities, career support, and more. The organization also provides a regular publication, a free website, and marketing toolkits for independent stylists.
  • Professional Beauty Association:
    Professionals and students alike should investigate a membership in the PBA. Students can apply for scholarships and other benefits include a periodical, discounted products, industry events, and more. There are virtual courses available for stylists, students, business owners, and barbers. Finally, the association offers professional liability insurance for members at a terrific group rate.

Hair Stylist Career and Salary


Hair stylists are an independent bunch. As such, the occupational sector is hard to pin down with regard to salary. Some may only see a handful of clients a week, enough to pay for groceries. Others may own and operate chic salons in high-end shopping malls. Thus, most of the employment data is based on reported income from large salon chains that dominate the industry.

Payscale.com, for instance, reports that the average wage for a cosmetologist is just over $11/hour. Their reported average for beauticians is under $14/hour, and make-up artists are reported to earn an average of around $18/hour. However, keep in mind that their website likely does not attract many listings from independent salons who may use less formal means of recruiting. Furthermore, many salons rent space to hair stylists rather than paying a wage as an employer, which makes the hair stylists using these salon spaces contractors rather than employees.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists is over $27,000/year. This figure may or may not include independent stylists, nor would it include tips, which are common in this industry. Their numbers also show the industry as being in decline. It's hard to account for why this industry would be declining since everyone still needs a haircut. Nevertheless, please consider these factors before diving into the industry.

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