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Graduates with a certificate, diploma, or degree in cosmetology can work throughout the beauty industry.

What is cosmetology? Cosmetology is the art and science of improving and beautifying the hair, skin, and nails. Students learn to work with these parts of the human body, studying cosmetics, therapeutic treatments, and beauty processes.

Cosmetologists help clients achieve their beauty goals through both classic and innovative beauty treatments. The ever-changing beauty industry offers plenty of career opportunities for working professionals.

A cosmetology degree blends didactic coursework with practical training. Much of the curriculum in a cosmetology degree can be completed online, but some requirements must be complete face to face. During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have implemented safety protocols to keep students and instructors protected. Learn more about cosmetology programs and careers below.

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Careers in Cosmetology

Cosmetology programs teach students how to apply makeup; administer facials and other beauty treatments; and care for different kinds of skin, hair, and nails. Students also learn the biology behind skin, hair, and nails, while also exploring the chemical processes of dyes, cosmetics, and herbal treatments.

Common careers for cosmetology degree-holders include hair stylist, manicurist, esthetician, and makeup artist. Cosmetology professionals can work in sales, at salons, in resorts and hotels, in the entertainment industry, and as instructors and consultants.

Career and Technical Education Teachers $59,140 2%

Career and technical education teachers — sometimes called vocational teachers — train students for specific careers. For cosmetology, teachers create lesson plans and assignments, demonstrate applicable techniques, and show learners how to use specific tools and equipment for beauty-related tasks.

Skincare Specialists $36,510 17%

Skincare specialists cleanse and treat the skin to improve its health, quality, and appearance. They also remove hair and dead or dry skin, apply treatments and products, and advise clients on the best techniques to take care of their skin.

Barbers and Hairstylists $27,630 -1%

Barbers and hairstylists evaluate clients' hair and discuss options before cutting, styling, dyeing, or treating hair. Barbers typically cut men's hair and offer services such as facials and shaving. Hair stylists color, shampoo, blowdry, and advise male and female clients alike. Both barbers and hairstylists maintain appropriate safety and sanitation standards.

Cosmetologists $27,630 -1%

Cosmetologists administer treatments to clients' faces and scalps. They also help clients determine which cosmetics work best for them, based on skin type and tone. Some cosmetologists also work with wigs and hairpieces.

Manicurists and Pedicurists $27,870 19%

Manicurists and pedicurists care for the fingernails and toenails of clients by cleaning, shaping, cutting, and coloring them either in salons, spas, or the clients' home. Manicurists and pedicurists also massage hands and feet, address rough skin and calluses, and provide guidance about how to care for feet and hands.

What Kinds of Cosmetology Degrees Are There?

Cosmetology programs include certificates, diplomas, and undergraduate degrees. When choosing a cosmetology program, students should consider their professional goals and personal interests. Certificates and diplomas provide fundamental knowledge and skills needed for cosmetology jobs, while an associate or bachelor's degree offers advanced courses in specialized sub-fields.


Certificate in Cosmetology

A cosmetology certificate, sometimes called a diploma, introduces students to fundamentals of hair, skin, and nail care, frequently emphasizing one of these areas. For example, a certificate designed to train nail technicians can last for as few as six months.

Comprehensive certificates in cosmetology span one year or less, integrating coursework with practical training. Most certificates include at least 1,500 training hours to help students qualify for professional licensure in cosmetology. With a certificate in cosmetology, professionals can work as nail technicians, hair stylists, and skincare specialists.


Associate Degree in Cosmetology

An associate degree in cosmetology includes two years of coursework and practical training. Alongside general education classes in English, the humanities, math, and science, students study cosmetology-specific topics, such as dermatology, color chemistry, and haircutting and styling. Learners then apply those skills during laboratory activities.

Cosmetology associate degrees can lead to positions as hair stylists, nail technicians, and skin specialists. Associate degree curricula can also include classes in salon communication, management, and safety, opening career opportunities as salon owners, spa managers, and cosmetic salespeople.


Bachelor Degree in Cosmetology and Beyond

The highest cosmetology degree available is an associate degree, usually offered by private beauty schools and community and technical colleges. However, those with an associate degree in cosmetology can go on to earn a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as business or hospitality management. This credential is especially useful for those wishing to open their own salons or manage a large resort or spa.

Students with an associate degree in cosmetology can transfer into a bachelor's degree and graduate in as few as two years. General education coursework in an associate degree can meet non-major requirements of a bachelor's program.

Accreditation for Cosmetology Programs

Community, technical, and vocational colleges can hold regional or national accreditation. The accreditation status of an institution attests to the scope, quality, and reputability of its educational programs. Students should always take accreditation status into consideration when choosing a school because it can influence transfer options and financial aid opportunities.

Among the national accreditation bodies for cosmetology programs is the National Accrediting Commission for Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS). NACCAS accredits roughly 1,300 institutions offering programs in more than 30 fields.

Certification and Licensure

Certificates in cosmetology come from schools, while certifications and licensure are issued by professional bodies and state agencies. To work in the field of cosmetology, professionals must meet the requirements for a license in their home city or state. A certificate in cosmetology often meets those requirements, but not always.

Each state has a board of cosmetology, barbers, and hairdressers that oversees education and licensing in the field. The National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology monitors these bodies and offers resources for aspiring and practicing cosmetologists.

The most common cosmetology requirement is a minimum number of hours in the classroom, plus a minimum number of practical hours. Generally, becoming a professional cosmetologist requires roughly 1,500 hours of training and successful completion of a licensing exam.

Certification lasts two years in most states, but it can vary. To recertify, cosmetologists must complete continuing education requirements as defined by their state licensing body.

Cosmetology Professional Organizations

This nonprofit association for licensed beauty professionals provides members with unlimited continuing education opportunities, discounts on products, and access to in-person and online events. It also advocates for beauty professionals at the legislative level and within the beauty industry. Members can join at the individual, student, recent graduate, or salon owner levels. PBA unites professional stylists, makeup artists, manufacturers, and beauty industry employees to elevate the industry. It holds summits each year, offers scholarship and student programs, and engages in charitable activities. Members receive event and education discounts, access to the PBA resource library, and template business plans to help start and grow a beauty-related business. Serving permanent-hair-removal professionals, the AEA enforces a code of ethics, standards of practice, and prevention protocols in the profession, as established by the International Board of Electrologist Certification Exam. Members of the AEA have access to continuing education courses, online and in-person events, and advocacy opportunities. In support of more than 20,000 skin care professionals throughout the United States, ASCP offers access to liability insurance, educational programs, community building opportunities, and career resources. Members also receive career toolkits, bimonthly publications, and marketing resources to grow their skin care business.

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Frequently Asked Questions

true What Is the Highest Degree in Cosmetology?

An associate degree in cosmetology is the highest degree in the field. Students can also earn a certificate or diploma in cosmetology.

How Long Is a Cosmetology Degree?

Certificate and diploma programs in cosmetology last fewer than 12 months. An associate degree in cosmetology includes two years of coursework and practical training.

How Long Does It Take to Get Certified in Cosmetology?

To become a certified cosmetologist, individuals must complete the required number of classroom and training hours. This process takes 4-5 years.

Header Image Credit: Peathegee Inc | Getty Images

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