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How Long Does It Take to Become a Cosmetologist?

December 14, 2020

The cosmetology profession can be an exciting career where you help clients with their physical appearance. If you are interested in becoming a cosmetologist, it is important you know how much time you need to invest to be trained and licensed. In this article, we explore how long it takes to become a cosmetologist and the various career options available to you once you are licensed.

What is a cosmetologist?

A cosmetologist provides cosmetic services to clients. This frequently involves cutting, styling and coloring hair, but can also include a range of other services, such as facial hair treatment, pedicures, manicures and makeup application. Cosmetologists often work in salons, but they might also work in spas and resorts. They typically use scissors, clippers, heat tools, combs, brushes and sometimes chemicals. A cosmetologist's hours are usually full time, though it is not uncommon to work part-time with flexible scheduling. Some cosmetologists work nights and weekends to accommodate their customers.

Related: Learn About Being a Cosmetologist

How long does it take to become a cosmetologist?

To start your cosmetology training, you need a high school diploma, GED or equivalent. After that, the length of time it takes to become a cosmetologist depends on regional requirements and the program in which you enroll. A full cosmetology program typically takes longer to complete than if you train only in a particular area, such as makeup or barbering. After completing classroom training, you normally need to complete an internship where you receive supervised practical experience. Only then can you take the licensing exam and be ready to work at a professional salon.

There are regional variations, but on average, the length of time to complete cosmetology training and licensing can be four to five years, not including high school. If you study part-time, it could take longer. During this time you will spend:

  • Two years earning an associate degree. Depending on your goals, you might be able to enroll in an accelerated program, which takes about nine months to complete.

  • Two or more years completing an internship. Most salons require you to have plenty of practical experience before they will hire you. An internship is one of the best ways to get that experience.

Types of cosmetologists

Becoming a licensed cosmetologist opens a variety of career options for you. The areas of specialization available include:

  1. Hairstylist
  2. Cosmetology instructor
  3. Salon manager
  4. Nail technician
  5. Esthetician
  6. Beauty writer or editor
  7. Massage therapist
  8. Cosmetology sales representative
  9. Beautician
  10. Makeup artist

National average salary: $13.88 per hour

Primary duties: A hairstylist or hairdresser cuts, styles, washes, dries and colors customers' hair. Hairdressers also use chemicals to straighten or curl hair. They usually work according to the specific wishes of the customer. Alternatively, they may recommend a particular style or cut based on an analysis of the customer's hair and the customer's personal taste. Hairdressers often instruct customers on the best care for their hair as well as sell hair products. You normally need a license to be a hairdresser and work in salons, spas or hotels.

National average salary: $18.68 per hour

Primary duties: A cosmetology instructor teaches students a variety of cosmetology skills, including hairstyling, manicure, pedicure and makeup. As well as the practical aspects of cosmetology, cosmetology instructors also teach the health and safety procedures standard to most salons. To become a cosmetology instructor, you usually have to be a licensed cosmetologist with two or more years of experience. Some regions also require you to have an instructor's license. Cosmetology instructors typically teach in community colleges, vocational schools and cosmetology schools.

National average salary: $39,613 per year

Primary duties: A salon manager is responsible for the daily operation of a hair, beauty or spa salon. This includes hiring, training and, when necessary, dismissing salon staff. The salon manager is also responsible for making sure the salon is profitable and follows appropriate health and safety regulations. To be a successful salon manager, you need to be a licensed and experienced cosmetologist and have excellent organization and communication skills.

National average salary: $42,089 per year

Primary duties: A nail technician specializes in the care and presentation of finger and toenails. This includes nail trimming, cleaning and filing, as well as cuticle removal, acrylic nail application and removal and hand or foot massaging. Nail technicians are also responsible for keeping their tools and work areas sanitized. Some nail technicians may prefer to work as either a manicurist or a pedicurist, but they are trained to do both. Nail technicians often work in full-service salons or department stores. Some take their services to their clients' homes.

National average salary: $21.44 per hour

Primary duties: An esthetician, or aesthetician, is trained and licensed specifically in the area of skincare. An esthetician's services include facials, skin treatment, hair removal and exfoliation. While cosmetologists are trained in some skincare techniques, estheticians receive broader and more specialized training. In many places, you need to be licensed to practice as an esthetician. An esthetician's training includes being aware of the allergic reactions a client may have to various skin treatments and making recommendations on how to manage them.

Related: Learn About Being an Esthetician

National average salary: $23.80 per hour

Primary duties: A beauty writer or editor works for a publication to provide content for their appearance-related sections. This can include features related to skincare, hair products or cosmetics as well as articles on advancements, procedures and services within the beauty industry. You might need qualifications or experience in journalism to be a beauty writer, depending on the needs of the publication. A background in cosmetology may give you an advantage, since you will have an informed basis from which to write.

National average salary: $28.19 per hour

Primary duties: Cosmetologists learn some massage techniques, particularly regarding the hands and feet. Becoming a massage therapist extends this training to providing pain and stress relief to a client's entire body. Massage therapists use touch to manipulate a client's muscles and soft tissue to help them relax and to promote wellness. They normally discuss with their clients their medical history, the specific areas of the body in need of attention and possible causes of pain, stress or injury. The massage therapist then provides targeted service based on this discussion.

Related: Learn About Being a Massage Therapist

National average salary: $58,011 per year

Primary duties: Cosmetology sales representatives normally work for a beauty product manufacturer and distributor. They are responsible for selling the company's products as well as educating customers on how best to use them. This might include giving product demonstrations and interacting with potential customers at trade shows or in stores. Successful cosmetology sales representatives need to be knowledgeable about the products they sell as well as stay informed about the beauty industry and competing brands.

National average salary: $60,326 per year

Primary duties: Beauticians are hairstylists who are also trained to offer other beauty services to their clients. These might include facials, waxing, manicures and makeup application, depending on the beautician's training and licensing. While the services offered by beauticians and cosmetologists seem very similar, the jobs are not quite the same. Beauticians offer fewer services to their clients compared to cosmetologists.

National average salary: $31.65 per hour

Primary duties: A makeup artist applies various forms of makeup to a client's skin, either to enhance or to change the client's appearance. Makeup artists work in various environments, including fashion shows, photography studios, theaters, movie studios, television studios and mortuaries. Aside from the training you need to be a professional makeup artist, you also need artistic skill and a good eye for color and design.