How to Become a Cosmetologist

11 minutes • 19 May 2021

“Cosmetology” comes from the Greek word meaning beautifying. And that’s what a cosmetologist does – make clients beautiful.

A licensed cosmetologist can cut, style and color hair, add hair extensions, perform manicures, pedicures and facials, prepare skin treatments and apply makeup. Some cosmetologists also offer hair removal, either through waxing, sugaring or other techniques. With additional training, cosmetologists can even offer IPL therapies (Intense Pulsed Light) to reduce signs of aging skin.

Cosmetologist applying cosmetics to client's eyelid

Some cosmetologists decide to open up their own spas or salons. Others can start a brand new product line (a great example is Estée Lauder, one of the world’s most famous cosmetologists). Some will choose to develop new beauty products for brand names, others launch their own beauty schools. Regardless of the path you choose, cosmetology training builds the foundation for you to become the beauty maven you were meant to be.

Ready to create loveliness? Read on to discover how you can become a cosmetologist.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as a cosmetologist
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for cosmetologists
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

Cosmetologists earn on average $26,270 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That comes out to $12.63 per hour. You’ll also earn tips from customers as well as commissions on products you sell in the salon or spa. If you own your own beauty parlor you can make as much money as you desire. It all depends on your willingness to put in the work and market your services to clients.

Lipstick cosmetics standing in a row

Employment of cosmetologists is projected to grow 8 percent through 2028, the labor bureau reports. That’s faster than the average for all occupations.

Training and Certification

If you want to offer beauty treatments as a cosmetologist you’ll need a license. That means completing a quality training program that leads to certification so you can sit for your state’s cosmetology licensing exam.

Here’s a state-by-state guide to licensing requirements for a cosmetologist. Check the laws in your state so you can choose the right accredited training program for your needs.

Keep in mind that if you decide at some point to move to another state, you’ll need to meet the licensing requirements of that state to continue working as a cosmetologist.

Person putting a cosmetic product on hand

The process of transferring a license varies depending on the state and its requirements for education in the cosmetology field. In some cases you are only required to submit an application and fee, while others require another exam or extra hours of training.

This directory of cosmetology schools, colleges and training programs will help your research in finding the best education for your situation.

Here’s just some of what you’ll learn in training:

  • Hair styling and cutting techniques
  • Nail procedures for performing manicures and pedicures
  • Procedures for applying and removing makeup
  • Advanced makeup techniques
  • Eyebrow and eyelash treatments
  • Skin consulting
  • Techniques for reducing skin wrinkles
  • Salon safety, including hygiene, sanitation and proper use of beauty products, some of which may contain harsh chemicals.

Professional Groups to Join

Professional Beauty Association is one of the best-known organizations supporting cosmetologists. With 100,000 members, the Professional Beauty Association is the largest and most inclusive trade organization representing licensed professionals, salons, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, spas, schools, independent practitioners and students. PBA produces some of the industry’s best-known programs and events; such as the North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA), International Salon and Spa Expo (ISSE), Beacon, and CUT IT OUT.

Woman modeling a full application of cosmetology

In addition to professional organizations, there are literally dozens of informal groups you can join on social media sites such as Facebook. Here’s a list of them.

Employment

Professional cosmetologists can find a confusing array of employment options, each with different benefits and potential drawbacks. Let’s go through the most common employment types:

Independent Contracting with Booth Rental
These cosmetologists pay a salon or spa a rental fee for access to the facilities. As independent contractors, booth renters buy their own supplies, set their own working hours and fees, and provide their own business insurance. You are completely in control of your earnings. With an established business and steady clients, independent contracting may be right for you.

Cosmetic products on a book

Hourly Pay + Commission
Many salons and spas pay their cosmetologists a low hourly wage plus commission, which is based on a percentage of how much business you produce. So if you delivered $500 worth of services to clients and receive a 20% commission on gross sales, you’d be paid $100 plus your pre-arranged hourly wage.

Team Member Compensation
With this employment arrangement, you receive a base salary plus commissions on your services and any products you sell to clients. If salesmanship is a skill you possess or would like to master, this compensation package might be right for you.

Straight Salary
You earn a yearly salary and probably receive benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Straight salary jobs are usually found in settings such as medical spas. You offer your services and are typically under no pressure to sell products while working with clients.

If you’re just starting out, it may not be financially practical to open your own studio at first. This means working for someone else. An up-to-date resume and copies of your certifications and license are essential parts of your application. Online job-search services such as Indeed.com and ZipRecruiter will yield openings.

Join cosmetology discussion groups on social media (Facebook has dozens) so you can build your professional network. Set up your professional profile on LinkedIn to start connecting with other estheticians and groups whose members may know of upcoming job openings before they’re advertised.

If you’re thinking of opening a studio, search for cities where the competition is not as great. Consider locating in resort areas where people on vacation want to be pampered. You might get so much seasonal business that you’ll be able to afford lengthy vacations of your own in the off-season.

Finding Clients

When running your own business, an attractive website is essential. If you’re not comfortable designing a website yourself using templates and artwork from popular sites like WordPress, hire someone to build a basic website for you. Just get an online presence going and keep it up-to-date with photos, special offers on skin-care products to drive traffic to your door, discounts for new customers, maybe even a price break for existing clients who refer new business.

Woman modeling full face of cosmetics

Build your credibility with online reviews. According to a recent survey, 90% of the respondents said they are influenced by positive online reviews.

Created dedicated pages for your business on Google, Facebook and Instagram. This is a free service on all three platforms. You can show off photographic examples of your work, promote specials on services and build a following at no cost to you beyond an investment of time needed to post fresh content on a regular basis.

Have all new customers fill out a basic form about their interest in your cosmetology services and be sure they include their contact information. Your web site can be set up to require contact information before the form can be submitted. You want contact information so you can follow-up with all your clients. This encourages repeat business.

Good to know

Being a licensed cosmetologist means you can earn money from a wide range of beauty services. Skills and talent are vital, yes, but so is the ability to sell your services. The more successful you are at selling, the more valuable you become as a cosmetologist, whether working for a salon or running your own show. Here are insider tips to help you maximize your income potential.

Invest in continuing development of your skill set and product knowledge
The beauty industry does not exist in a vacuum. It’s constantly evolving, with new styles and techniques for creating them. Stay current in your field and you’ll be able to handle requests from virtually every customer who comes in the door – or make cutting-edge recommendations of your own. This is why joining professional groups can be so beneficial to your career. The continuing education opportunities these groups offer are golden.

Cosmetologist blow drying client's hair

Remember your ABCs
Always Be Courting – new customers, that is. The more business you can drum up, the more valuable your services become, whether you work for a salon or are self-employed. Marketing may seem like a challenge at first (review the Finding Clients section, above), but once you have a strong client base your customers will do most of the work for you. Word of mouth advertising is still the very best advertising of all.

Excel at the Sell
Anyone who’s ever stepped foot into a beauty salon has noticed the wall-to-wall displays of gleaming beauty products. Those aren’t in the salon to look pretty or for customers to buy as an afterthought. Retail products are a serious driver of profits and the key to success for almost all salons. It’s simple math, really.

Most salons will see an average 5% profit margin on actual services (haircuts, manicures, facials, whatever), while the profit margin on product can be as much as 40%. So, every time the salon generates $1,000 on services, once you’ve deducted rent on the building, paid the utilities, the employees, covered the insurance, bought supplies and everything else that goes with running the business, the salon will make a $50 profit. Now, for every $1,000 in sales of beauty products, the salon earns a profit of up to $400.

Why should you care? First, because product sales keep salons in business. Second, and just as importantly, you will likely earn a commission on selling products. That means more money in your pocket.

Some people are put off by the thought of selling, perhaps even frightened. The trick is to look at it another way: you are helping your customers and promoting repeat business. A client who comes in for a $75 styling needs beauty products to maintain that look as long as possible. You’re doing her a disservice if you don’t point out the right products for her to take home.

The key to selling is not asking your clients what they want, but telling them what they need and explaining why.

You Can Sell? Swell. Now Let’s Upsell
How many times have you gotten to the front of the line at a fast-food place and the clerk asked if you’d like a combo meal by adding a drink, fries and a cookie for just a little extra money? That’s upselling. You came in to buy a sandwich and left with a sack of food.

If a client comes in for a new hair style and it looks like she might benefit from a touch of color, recommend adding a weave of color or highlights. Then suggest a blow dry. Getting a manicure? Might as well get a pedicure, too, since she’s already in the chair.

The salon makes more money on services and so do you. Plus, more services means a bigger bill, which increases the value of your tip. If you perform $20 worth of services, you might get a $4 tip (20 percent is considered the standard tip). If you can upsell the visit to $40 worth of services, suddenly you’re looking at a potential $8 tip.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some more great PocketSuite.io content that can help you grow your career as a cosmetologist. Here’s a great place to start.

PocketSuite has thousands of business owners who all started where you are right now. Our community is always happy to help you ramp up, grow your client base, and achieve your income goals, both within the PocketSuite app and as part of our exclusive Facebook Community Group. PocketSuite’s vision is for any professional to be able to work for themselves and make a great living. It starts here. It starts with you. It starts today. Let’s get started, download PocketSuite now! Feel free to reach out with any questions (we’d love to hear from you)! Text us @ (415) 841-2300.

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