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If you like people or are interested in fashion or style, working as a hair stylist might be a good career for you. Cosmetology schools or trade school programs in your community may be a good way for you to begin and complete the education that is required for you to begin a hair styling career that you will enjoy throughout your professional career.

Students in these programs learn, not only how to style hair, but also learn how to interact in a friendly, professional manner with each person needing a haircut or new hair style. You also learn about the structure of the skull and hair structure and the education will include information about hair care products such as shampoo, conditioner, hair coloring, scissors, blow dryers, hairbrushes, combs, flat irons and curling irons, and much more.

Your cosmetology program should also teach you some level of business skills, such as maintaining records of each product provided to your clients and taking their payments for your services.

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What Does a Hair Stylist Do?

What you’ll do as a hair stylist runs the gamut from greeting your clients and discussing with them what they need done to their hair to providing advice for common hair issues and knowing the ins and outs of everything associated with hair care. You’ll talk about various hair styles and cuts, then decide if their schedule and habits will allow them to maintain the style they’re interested in. A good example would be if a client has thick or heavy hair and they want a style that the weight or thickness of their hair makes difficult to maintain, your role is to give them similar options and note the problems they may run into, though they may still choose not to follow your advice.

You’ll also help them if you see they have a problem with either their hair or scalp. You can tell them what you see and make recommendation as to what they can do to take care of it or if you think they may need to see a dermatologist if it’s something product use will not aid.

Once you have finished working with a client, it’s time to sweep the floor of as much hair as you can and clean and disinfect every tool you used before doing it all again.

If your client asks about using a particular hair care or hair styling product, you’ll show them which ones will enhance the natural beauty of their hair, and you may act as a salesperson if you work for an employer who provides commissions for product sales or run your own shop.

Learning business skills may feel like an endeavor you were setting out to achieve when you decided to become a hair stylist but, if you will be renting a booth or starting your own salon, you’ll need these skills for effective salon management.

Where Do Hair Stylists Work?

Your only work location may not be the hair salon where you cut clients’ hair. In fact, if you have added to your skills as either a manicurist or esthetician, you may be able to find satisfying work in several locations.

  • Fashion Magazines:
    You may be hired as an expert esthetician, working on the hair of the models before photoshoots. You might work for an employer or as a freelancer.
  • Cosmetologist for a movie or television show:
    In this position, it’s your job to work on each actor and make sure they look their best. This is a fast-paced environment and you may be styling their hair one after the other or you may be devoted to one particular actor/actress; you may also apply makeup in this position.
  • Fashion Show Stylist:
    Here, you’ll work closely with designers, develop your artistic vision, and work behind the fashion scene.
  • Cosmetology Educator/Instructor:
    If you become an educator, you’ll work in beauty schools, a trade school, salon, or even a university, teaching advanced classes or workshops. You’ll share your knowledge with others who want to learn more and get into hair styling.

Why Become a Hair Stylist?

If you love to style your hair or the hair of your friends and family, you may find a rewarding career as a hair stylist (also called cosmetologist). You may get excited when you see how pretty someone else’s hair looks after you’ve helped them to arrange their hair in a style they may not have tried before. Becoming a hair stylist allows you to work with people and help them maintain or create the style that works best with them. You may become a confidant or be able to help someone who has no idea what they want. This career will let you be the expert and may, in a lot of ways, allow you to be your own boss as well. Whether you rent space in someone else’s salon or start your own, it will be up to you to keep your clients happy and you might even bring clients from one salon to another if they like you well enough.

If you have good customer services skills and enjoy spending time with people during the day, this career may be a good choice. However, there are also other reasons to consider before you make your final decision. For one, you’ll be working in an environment that you should actually enjoy. Rather than sitting in an office, feeling bored and unfulfilled, you’ll be able to create with color, scissors, and hair product.

A hair stylist’s average earnings, after booth rental, equals out to about $22,500 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).


To become a hair stylist in your state, you’ll likely need to go to a trade school or cosmetology school - trade school programs and vocational schools give you both the education and required hours of training and practice. Part of this may include to hands-on opportunities to work, first with faux ‘customers’ and then with actual customers’ hair, fingernails, toenails, and makeup. There are even scholarships to help you pay for some programs.

Your state will have a specific number of hours you need to complete before you are considered to be proficient in this field. To help schools bring you and your fellow students to this level, your state also requires cosmetology schools to provide that hands-on training, theory, chemistry, and skull structure, all of which you will learn from textbooks. Once you are ready to graduate, you’ll pass a state exam and, if you pass, you’ll receive a license that allows you to work in the cosmetology field.

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Necessary Skills

Working in your career means standing for long hours, cutting and styling your clients’ hair. You should have extremely good manual dexterity and a high amount of attention to detail. You’ll need to keep up with current and new trends in hair styles and trends. This also means you need to learn the techniques involved in creating these styles.

Along with cutting and styling hair, you need to know how to color hair and carry out hair processing techniques, which include relaxing curly hair or perming straight hair.

Creativity is likely to be one of the most important skills you can have. You need to be able to rely on this when a client in your community asks you to give your advice on ways to style or cut their hair. Understanding skull shape and the lines of your client’s hair goes hand-in-glove with your creativity, as that will help you understand which cuts will be the most flattering and which colors might make them appear too pale or flushed.

You need to be able to listen to your clients as well. What do they want in a style and why? If they have stubborn cowlicks, you’ll need to know about it before you cut their hair in such a way as to make it particularly obvious.

You’ll need to make sure you have good customer service skills before you head out to start working with customers. Make your customer happy and they will return to you. Even if you aren’t in the best mood, you’ll have to make the attempt to be welcoming and pleasant. Part of your role is to be a confidant and make your clients comfortable.

You’ll also need to learn good organizational skills, how to pay attention to detail, and business skills. This will serve you well if you decide to start a salon of your own.

You need self-confidence. You’ll find that you are required to sometimes make quick decisions. This skill is handy if you are trying out a new haircut or your client is uncertain about their own choices. Projecting confidence transfers to your client and can help them feel comfortable if they’ve decided to take on a more extreme style change.

Cleanliness—keep your booth area clean—this is one of the standards required by state regulation and will be much appreciated by your clients as well. This is necessary for the safety and health of your clients and you. Cleanliness also extends to you, your clothing, and even your hair style.

You should also be able to carry out inventory, restock supplies, and keep accurate track of tips.

How to Become a Hair Stylist

GED or High School Diploma

Before becoming a hair stylist, you need to meet the requirements. This means that you must earn either your GED or high school diploma. Requirements in your state may differ from neighboring states’ requirements, so be sure to check. Your state may also require you to reach a particular age before you enroll. Some cosmetology schools set a lower age limit of 16 years, as well as your diploma or GED.

You’ll also have to undergo an assessment given by the cosmetology school. This ensures you meet the minimum requirements to be admitted. You may need to show your competence (ability) in basic math, writing, reading, computer use, and problem-solving.

Being able to prove that you have all of these skills and meet age and diploma/GED requirements is necessary for you to obtain a license to practice cosmetology after you graduate.

Hair Stylist Training and Other Certifications

After you graduate from your cosmetology school, you’re still not done. Yes, you’ll be ready for a job you love, but you’re required to earn a license in your state to be allowed to work in this profession. You’ll have to do more studying so you can take your cosmetology licensing exam. Every few years—this depends on your state—you’ll have to renew your license by gaining some continuing education, whether that’s in new styling techniques or new products may be left up to you. You are responsible for learning about the education and licensing requirements, so make sure you know what you’ll have to do to earn your initial license and renew that license as required by law.

All 50 states require professional hair stylists to obtain licenses after completing an approved cosmetology program. You’ll also have to meet additional licensing requirements such as being 16 years old or older, finishing your cosmetology program, and holding either a high school diploma or a GED. Since these are the requirements to enter a cosmetology program, there shouldn’t be any issues after you complete one.

The licensing exam consists of a written portion, which tests on what you know of the laws in your state that relate to hair stylists, proper sanitation processes, and hair stylist techniques. The skills test verifies whether you’re able to carry out your job duties at an acceptable level.

Depending on what your job description says you do, you’ll need to hold a license that tells the state and your clients that you have the ability and the skills to carry out that job. This may be shampooing, cutting and styling hair, adding color to hair, etc.

If your training and education gave you the skills to apply makeup or eyelash extensions, your license will show this as well. You may be licensed to wax eyebrows or give facials or you may hold a certification as a nail technician, depending on what your state requires. Some states do not offer specialty licensures or does not regulate them quite as tightly. Always make sure you know what licensure is required for before adding to your services list.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is exactly what the term says and it is usually required every year or two so that you can renew your cosmetology license. Once you have received your training and graduated, you’ll be able to work in a variety career options. Licensure benefits clients and the state with knowledgeable hair stylists.

Earning your license in your first year of your career doesn’t mean you never have to study again. You’ll complete courses and send in proof of your continuing education so that you can renew your license.

You can begin by finding continuing education in beauty courses that are close to you. You may return to the classroom to study alongside other hair stylists. Check with your state about now many continuing education credits you need to earn. The state’s cosmetology licensing board may even have a list of learning opportunities so that you don’t have to spend too long searching for courses that count toward your ongoing education.

You continue to learn because this field is one that is constantly changing. You’ll study the newest trends and learn more about safety and sanitation practices as well.

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Salary and Job Outlook

The average base salary rate in the U.S. for hair stylists is $10.37/hour. Annually, this comes out to around $40,000.

Your annual mean salary depends greatly on where in the U.S. you are living. Colorado, Washington State, Virginia, Wyoming, Vermont, and a few others have the highest annual mean wage for hair stylists ($34,000 to $44,000). On the other hand, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, and South Carolina have the lowest annual mean wage ($23,000 to $28,000).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of cosmetologists, hair stylists and barbers is expected to fall by around 1% between 2019 and 2029. However, new positions will open as older hair stylists or those leaving to join new careers provide openings throughout the United States.

Similar Careers

Fashion Show Stylist:
In this position, you’ll work closely with designers and you’ll have the freedom to bring your artistic ideas to the front. You’ll also be a huge part of the fashion scene. Average income in this position is likely to be higher than the average $40,000 for most hair stylists.

Skincare Specialists:
Your job in this position is to cleanse and beautify a client’s face and body so their appearance will be enhanced. The average income for those with this skill is $45,000.

Manicurists and Pedicurists:
Your role in this position is to clean and shape fingernails and toenails and beautify them using special techniques that continue to shift and evolve along with the rest of fashion. The average income for this position is $29,700.

Barbers, Hairstylists and Cosmetologists:
You’ll cut clients’ hair, style it and offer several beauty services to each of your clients. The average income for a barber is $38,500; for a hairstylist it is $40,000; and for a cosmetologist it is $30,000.

Massage Therapists:
These specialists treat clients with touch and massage to manipulate muscles and other soft tissues to lessen pain or stress. Their average income is $38,000 to $40,000 per year, depending on their licensure.

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