AnnaMarie Houlis
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Interested in a job in cosmetology but not sure what it entails? Here's everything you need to know about a career as a cosmetologist.

What does cosmetology entail?

The word cosmetology actually comes from the Greek word “kosmētikos,” which translates in English to “skilled in adornment.” Today, cosmetology, therefore, refers to the field of cosmetics and their use. "Cosmetics," however, is a broadly used word, but it generally refers to makeup, nail lacquer, hair products, skin products anything else that can be used to beautify and improve a person's characteristics and features.

"Traditionally, cosmetologists are thought of as hairstylists, makeup artists or nail technicians," according to Beauty School Directory. "However, the growing areas of laser hair removal and permanent makeup are part of cosmetology too. Earning a cosmetologist’s license will generally qualify you for the foundational skills. To work in electrolysis or certain types of makeup artistry, for instance, you will need to take that specific type of training program."

Therefore, a cosmetologist can be defined as a professional who provides makeup, skin, hair and/or nail services to clients — but that's not as limiting as it once was.

What are cosmetology duties and responsibilities?

A cosmetologist's duties certainly vary greatly depending on what type of cosmetology they perform. If you have a passion for hair and study that, you can become a hairstylist as a cosmetologist and perform hairstyling services, like cutting and coloring, for example.

Meanwhile, if you have a passion for makeup, you can become a makeup artist as a cosmetologist and work with models, for example, to do their makeup before shoots and runway shows.

That said, here are some general responsibilities across the board.

  • Make their clients feel comfortable and confident.
  • Offer expert, professional advice to help a client solve an issue with their hair, skin or nails.
  • Offer professionally-founded solutions to help a client overcome an issue with their hair, skin or nails.

Here are some more specific responsibilities, broken down.

Hair Services

  • Haircuts
  • Hairstyles
  • Perms
  • Chemical Treatments
  • Shampooing
  • Hair Straightening
  • Bleaching
  • Coloring

Skin Services

Nail Services

  • Manicures
  • Pedicures
  • Gel Manicures
  • Gel Pedicures
  • Acrylic Nails
  • Silk Nails
  • Powder Nails
  • Cuticle Treatments

What are some cosmetology jobs and salaries?

There are tons of cosmetology jobs from which to choose. Here are five (and their salary information) to get you started. Each of these falls into a different salary range to give you a broad scope of the field.

1. Hairdresser

A hairdresser cuts, colors and styles hair. An entry-level hairstylist with less than one year of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation (which includes tips, bonus and overtime pay) of $9.37 per hour, based on 24 salaries on Payscale.

2. Esthetician

An esthetician is someone who specializes in the beautification of the skin. An esthetician can expect an average pay of $16.32 per hour, or $40,034 per year, according to Payscale.

3. Makeup Artist

A makeup artist uses makeup techniques on clients, usually for special events.  An entry-level makeup artist with less than one year of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation (which includes tips, bonus and overtime pay) of $15.44 per hour, based on 34 salaries on Payscale. 

4. Nail Technician

Nail technicians earned a median salary of $23,230 in 2017, while the best-paid 25 percent made $27,040 that year and the lowest-paid 25 percent pulled in $20,730, according to Money.

5. Wedding and Event Stylist

When factoring in bonuses and other additional compensations, a bridal stylist, for example, can expect to make about $33,000, according to Glassdoor. This varies based on the scale of the events for which stylists are working.

What are the required skills and training for a job in cosmetology?

Becoming a cosmetologist takes work. You need to get yourself certified and, sometimes, even pursue further education to land a job.

Training/Certifications

"Individuals who are aspiring to break into the field of cosmetology must be able to effectively use the techniques and skills they learned in school to different kinds of people," according to Career Igniter. "While they may know how to apply makeup, the challenge lies in making the person with different kinds of facial shapes look beautiful."

Therefore, all states require cosmetologists to be licensed. And, to qualify for licensing, you must graduate from a cosmetology or barber program that has been approved by your state. These are usually vocational schools, which hand out certificates rather than a degree upon completion.

These same schools also are likely to offer already-licensed students some advanced courses in cosmetology, which can help them to advance and stay abreast of trends.

Licenses

Then you'll need to take a test and apply for a license.

"Once you complete the required coursework for the cosmetology program, you’ll need to sit for the state board," according to Bellus Academy. "This will test the knowledge you learned at school to make sure you are ready to start your career as a cosmetologist."

After you've passed the test, you can apply for your license.

"This step is unique for every state, but you’ll need to apply for a cosmetologist license before you start your new career," according to Bellus Academy. "This license is important because it allows you to provide hair, skin, and nail services for actual clients."

Education

In addition to licensing, some jobs will also require you to have a high school diploma or a GED, while others do not require anything else at all. 

If you plan to open your own business, getting a degree in business, marketing or something similar will also prove invaluable.

What are the work schedule and environment of a cosmetologist?

A cosmetologist's work schedule varies depending on their job. But because they are client-facing, they usually work regular business hours.

Their work environment will also depend on their job. Most cosmetologists work in a salon, studio or spa space alongside others who perform the same or similar jobs. That said, many cosmetologists choose to open their own businesses and may have their own private studio, or they may go directly to clients' homes.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.