Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists held about 663,300 jobs in 2012. Nearly half were self-employed.
Employment in the detailed occupations that make up barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists was distributed as follows:
- Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists 611,200
- Barbers 52,100
Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists work mostly in a barbershop or salon, although some work in a spa, hotel, or resort. Some lease booth space in other people’s salons. A good number manage salons or open their own shop after several years of experience.
Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists usually work in pleasant surroundings with good lighting. Physical stamina is important, because they are on their feet for most of their shift. Prolonged exposure to some chemicals may cause skin irritation, so they often wear protective clothing, such as disposable gloves or aprons.
Many barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists work part time. However, some self-employed workers may have long hours. Work schedules often include evenings and weekends―the times when barbershops and beauty salons are busiest. Those who are self-employed usually determine their own schedules.
All states require barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists to be licensed. To qualify for a license, candidates are required to graduate from a state-approved cosmetology program.
A high school diploma or equivalent is required for some positions. In addition, every state requires that barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists complete a program in a state-licensed barber or cosmetology school. Programs in hairstyling, skin care, and other personal appearance services are available in postsecondary vocational schools.
Full-time programs in barbering and cosmetology usually last at least 9 months and may lead to an associate’s degree. Most of these workers take advanced courses in hairstyling or in other personal appearance services to keep up with the latest trends. Those who want to open their own business also may take courses in sales and marketing.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists to be licensed. Qualifications for a license vary by state, but generally, a person must fulfill the following:
- Minimum age of 16
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Graduated from a state-licensed barber or cosmetology school
After graduating from a state-approved training program, students take a state licensing exam that includes a written test and, in some cases, a practical test of styling skills or an oral exam.
In many states, cosmetology training may be credited toward a barbering license and vice versa, and a few states combine the two licenses. A fee usually is required to apply for a license, and periodic renewals may be necessary.
Some states have reciprocity agreements that allow licensed barbers and cosmetologists to get a license in another state without needing additional formal training, but such agreements are not common. Consequently, people who want to work in a particular state should review the laws of that state before entering a training program.
Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists typically have an interest in the Creating, Helping and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Creating or Helping or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a barber, hairdresser, and cosmetologist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Creativity. Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists must keep up with the latest trends and be ready to try new hairstyles for their clients.
Customer-service skills. Workers must be pleasant, friendly, and able to interact with customers in order to retain clients.
Listening skills. Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists should be good listeners. They must listen carefully to what the client wants in order to make sure that the client is happy with the result.
Physical stamina. Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists must be able to stand on their feet for long periods.
Tidiness. Workers must keep a neat personal appearance and keep their work area clean and sanitary. This requirement is necessary for the health and safety of their clients, as well as to make the clients comfortable enough to want to return.
Time-management skills. Time-management skills are important in scheduling appointments and providing services. For example, routine haircuts do not require the precise timing of some other services, such as applying neutralizer after a permanent wave. Clients who receive timely hair care are more likely to return.
The median hourly wage for barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists was $10.95 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.11, and the top10 percent earned more than $20.39.
The median hourly wages for occupational specialties for barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists in May 2012 were as follows:
- $12.06 for Barbers
- $10.91 for Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists
Many barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists work part time. However, some self-employed workers have long hours. Work schedules often include evenings and weekends―the times when beauty salons and barbershops are busiest. Those who are self-employed usually determine their own schedules.
Overall employment of barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Growth rates will vary by specialty.
Employment of barbers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The need for barbers will stem primarily from an increasing population, which will lead to greater demand for basic hair-care services.
Employment of hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for hair coloring, hair straightening, and other advanced hair treatments has risen in recent years, a trend that is expected to continue over the coming decade.
Overall job opportunities are expected to be good. A large number of job openings will stem from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the occupation for other reasons. However, workers should expect strong competition for jobs and clients at higher paying salons, of which there are relatively few and for which applicants must compete with a large pool of experienced hairdressers and cosmetologists.
For information about state licensing, practice exams, and other professional links, visit