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What is a Cosmetologist?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 21, 2024
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A cosmetologist is a beauty specialist who is educated in treating the hair, skin, and nails. A cosmetologist may care for a client, but may also consult with clients and offer suggestions regarding flattering hairstyles, skincare options, and the best colors and proper application of cosmetics. The specialist with advanced skills may also offer therapeutic treatments and massages, and advise a client in hygienic practices as well as hair, skin or nail care between visits to the salon.

State laws vary, but in most cases a cosmetologist must be sixteen years of age or older, must have graduated from a state approved cosmetology school or completed an apprenticeship, and must be licensed. To become licensed, one must prove his or her skills and must receive a passing grade on a written test. In certain states, a high school diploma, or its equivalency, is also required.

The cosmetologist may have few or many duties. He or she may specialize in a particular area or may be involved in overall customer care. A cosmetologist may cut hair, style hair or add hairpieces and weaves. He or she may also color, bleach, frost or condition hair, or add a tinted rinse to tone down bad color received at another shop or through inappropriate application of home color treatments.

The cosmetologist chooses cosmetics that are appropriate for the client's coloring and skin tone, and may apply them or teach the client how to do so. He or she may also shape, trim, pluck and color the eyebrows, or assist a client in the removal of unwanted facial hair. As for skin treatments, the cosmetologist is charged with selecting, applying or recommending a mask, anti-age creams, exfoliate and moisturizers that best suit the client's needs.

In the treatment of nails, a cosmetologist may clean the fingernails or toenails, treat cuticles, file and buff the nails, apply polish or apply artificial nails. He or she may also provide soaks or other treatments, such as conditioners or hardeners.

Although considered an expert in the field of beauty, the cosmetologist may also be required to perform or share in less specialized duties. These may include care and cleaning of beauty implements and employee stations. He or she may also answer the phone, book appointments, file, keep records, order products and sign for deliveries.

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Discussion Comments
By anon333449 — On May 05, 2013

How many years will it take before I can own my own salon?

By anon312963 — On Jan 09, 2013

How much does a cosmetologist get paid?

By anon301821 — On Nov 06, 2012

I love doing hair and nails. It brings me joy, makes me feel happy, and makes others look great.

By anon156913 — On Feb 28, 2011

What should i do to get a skin care license? I know how to treat skin pigmentation (melasmarosacea, acne and many more) and I have natural recipes, but I just need a license and help some women out there!

By anon96270 — On Jul 15, 2010

i want to get my cosmetology license from oregon marinello beauty school and then move to washington state but i don't know. can i work in nail, hair and skin care salons? the course is 2300 hours in oregon but WA cosmetology requires 1600 hours. please give me information on this. do i get separate nail, hair and skin licenses or not?

By anon91986 — On Jun 25, 2010

i live in idaho and the starting salary is over $32,000 and that's starting in an hourly base pay place, plus tips. If you take school seriously, then when you graduate you can charge a $50 dollar minimum which is what i plan on doing so you can make a lot more than that.

By anon91272 — On Jun 21, 2010

in which collages of mumbai can i pursue an education for cosmetology?

By anon76062 — On Apr 08, 2010

I am interested in this career field but am having a hard time between going for cosmetology in general or just manicuring/nail tech. Honestly that is all I really want to do, but figure it would be easier to find a job if I have the full cosmetology license. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Such as salary difference and job outlook for the two. Thanks!

By anon73106 — On Mar 25, 2010

I'm in school for hair now,and i love every minute of it. At my school we get to keep the tips. i have a great client base and can't wait to get out in the real world.

Whoever wants to try this, make sure you really love and enjoy doing hair because in the field you have to have the passion for it. but good luck to whomever!

By anon72314 — On Mar 22, 2010

how do we become one?

By amypollick — On Mar 03, 2010

Cheyenne, yes you must have a license to own your own salon, if you will be working in it. Any person doing this work in the U.S. in a business establishment must take their state board exams and get a license.

By anon68444 — On Mar 02, 2010

I really enjoy cosmetology because my sister used to show me how to do different hair styles and stuff and i want to know if you have to have a license to have your own salon? Cheyenne M.

By anon68441 — On Mar 02, 2010

What is the best school to go to if you want to become a cosmo person?

By anon66969 — On Feb 22, 2010

How many people want to be a cosmetologist in life?

By anon65874 — On Feb 16, 2010

i go to school for cosmetology and this is my first year but i'm not in it for the money. i do it because it's something that i really enjoy doing inside and outside of class. i go to school so i can be a professional and be able to work in a real salon setting. I am so anxious for this experience. i know i will love it.

By anon62377 — On Jan 26, 2010

I am so glad i have chosen a career that has gotten me this far! a cosmetologist is the best job ever.

By anon49706 — On Oct 22, 2009

Is the big test hard? i am still in high school and i am trying my best to get my hours in but i really want to know how hard the main test is, and how much is the salary, because my parents don't believe that it will be enough to get me through life!

By anon45094 — On Sep 13, 2009

A Cosmetology License typically requires about 1500 school hours or 3000 apprentice hours. Both involve hands on training, required testing/ book studies and passing of your state board test for licensing. The education is in hair, nails, basic waxing, skin care and cosmetics. There is also a bit of massage included in the curriculum. You will learn a lot about anatomy and physiology, diseases of the scalp, skin and nails and utilize a good bit of math skills. The thing to remember is that it covers multiple areas that you can work in, so you can specialize in one area or work in several. Either way, it is still hard work, which requires working typically for commission and, while building up clientele, working hours that may not be the greatest. Other than doing nails, pretty much all other areas require standing on your feet for several hours a day. You will also be required to receive continuing education to renew your license either every year or every two years (depending on the state). If you are passionate about it, you will love it. There are all types of shows and learning events to keep up with current trends and stay on top of your field, which you should utilize. The good thing is that most of the areas of expertise are recession proof. If you do good work and have a good work ethic, you can be as successful as you choose to be.

By anon35390 — On Jul 04, 2009

probably like 15 grand, no more than one degree. but you will probably just need a beauty qualification

By anon32618 — On May 24, 2009

What tasks do you have 2 complete during cosmetology?

By anon31323 — On May 03, 2009

if you take classes while you are in high school as part of a career tech program or what we called Trade School, then it can take 2 or 3 years depending on how many classes they give you a year. then as part of passing the class for your senior year you have to pass your state board tests to get your license. it does involve studying and if you don't like it or are just going into it because you think it is an easy way to make money, my suggestion is to not do it. it is a lot of science and math and you have to know the pH scale and different types of diseases and stuff so it's not like all girly girly like most people think.

By anon24526 — On Jan 13, 2009

a cosmetologist gets around $50 or more tip. They get paid on what level they are. My mom is a cosmetologist and she gets $100 dollars tip.

By anon23195 — On Dec 18, 2008

what is the salary of a cosmetologist?

By anon14420 — On Jun 16, 2008

How long is the Cosmetolology course?

By anon12713 — On May 12, 2008

How much would you make if you were a make-up artist and a hairstylist??

By anon10017 — On Mar 18, 2008

how much money do you get to work as a cosmetologist and what educational level is required and last, how many degrees are required?

Thank You,

Dekeya Johnson

By deenick — On Oct 01, 2007

I have not been in school for years and my studying skills sucked then how hard is the course and test?

By anon3694 — On Sep 12, 2007

How much does a cosmetologist get paid?

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