Get the scoop on these hair and skin experts, including important education, earnings and career trends.

Hairdresser and Hairstylist Careers

Some people always seem well put together. They know -- and often set -- the latest trends, and manage to pull them off flawlessly. As for the rest of us? We rely on experts like hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists to keep us looking sharp. This is an industry that allows the style-savvy to showcase their creativity and knack for aesthetics, but it also requires a great deal of technical expertise. Read on to learn what it takes to become one of these professionals, and what to expect in the field.

What hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists do

Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists are related but separate professionals with different specialties. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hairdressers and hairstylist offer a wide range of hair services, including shampooing, hair cutting and styling, and chemical treatments, like coloring or straightening. Cosmetologists, on the other hand, focus on skin care. Duties can vary depending on one's talents or specialty, but most of these professionals tend to the following tasks:

  • Inspecting the hair and skin of clients
  • Determining treatments for clients
  • Discussing hairstyling or skin treatment options
  • Washing, coloring, and treating hair, or preparing the skin for treatment
  • Cutting, drying and styling hair
  • Receiving payment for services and managing appointments
  • Ensuring tools and work areas are cleaned and sanitized

The BLS also states that hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists should be creative and exhibit strong customer service, communication and time-management skills. The technical aspects of the field, on the other hand, are mastered in cosmetologist schools.

How to become a hairdresser, hairstylist or cosmetologist

Anyone who has ever had a bad haircut or skin treatment can appreciate how important it is for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists to know their craft and for state regulators see that they do. According to the BLS, all states require these professionals to attend cosmetologist programs and to be licensed. Some full-time programs may last about nine months and sometimes -- but not always -- result in an associate degree. Those who want to open their own salons may benefit from additional courses in business or marketing.

Because of the hands-on nature of the profession, it can be difficult to find programs that offer state-approved hairdresser or cosmetologist education online, but there are web-based programs that can help those working in the field keep up with new trends, techniques and products.

Salary and employment trends for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists

Salary estimates can be tricky because a number of factors can influence earnings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median annual hairdresser, hairstylist and cosmetologist salary in 2015 was $23,660 with the top 10 percent earning at least $47,410.

Though most of these professionals work in dedicated salons, they can actually work in a number of different settings, which can influence their earnings considerably. According to the BLS, the personal care services industry reported the highest concentration of employment at 47.31 percent.

Geography can also impact earnings. With that in mind, the BLS reports that the following states offered the highest mean hairdresser, hairstylist and cosmetologist salaries in 2015:

  • District of Columbia: $40,560
  • Hawaii: $38,020
  • Washington: $37,280

While all professionals must complete formal education to be licensed, investing in additional education through cosmetologist schools or salon-specific programs can help expand the number of services you provide, giving your earnings and job prospects -- not to mention resume -- a boost.

Career outlook for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists

As existing hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists retire or move into other industries, opportunities should emerge for new professionals. Projections Central shows that employment for these workers is projected to grow by about almost 10 percent between 2014 and 2024, with potentially 21,210 annual job openings. Job prospects may be particularly strong for specialists trained in hair coloring, straightening and other advanced treatments.

The BLS reports that both earnings and employment prospects may improve with education for some in this profession, so those interested would be well advised to research a number of hairdresser, hairstylist and cosmetologist programs to find one that suits their goals and interests.


  1. Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Occupational Employment Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes395012.htm
  2. Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists, Long-Term Occupational Projections, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm