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Cosmetology and Beauty Careers Guide

Learn about careers in beauty from makeup artist to hairstylist and so much more

The beauty industry has a constant demand for qualified, creative, and well-trained graduates. As a cosmetologist, you can specialize in hair styling, makeup, or nails, and your career and workplace can look as varied as the people you work with.

Students interested in becoming a beautician or cosmetologist need to complete a state-approved training program. You can search for local cosmetology schools through that link. Certificate or associate degree programs are the most popular forms of cosmetology education. You’ll take courses in technique, safety, and marketing as the school prepares you for the state exam required for licensure.

Tuition varies by the beauty program and school location. Make sure your school is accredited, otherwise you won’t be eligible to sit for the state boards.

How to Become A Cosmetologist

In order to work in any of the cosmetology fields, you must go and graduate from a state-approved beauty school. Your steps will look similar to this:

  • Be at least 16 years old.
  • Get your high school diploma or your GED.
  • Attend a state-approved cosmetology school through a community college, cosmetology school, or trade school. Training takes between nine and 24 months.
  • Take and pass your state’s licensing exam.
  • Work in a salon as an apprentice. It can take up to two years to get your own chair.
  • Complete your continuing education (required in many states), and pay the fee to apply for your license.
  • Retake the exam if you move out of the state you’re licensed in, so you can work in your new state.

Find a cosmetology program now.


Main article: Cosmetology Career

You, out of all your friends, are the go-to person for makeup and hair. You love experimenting with hairstyles and color. Not only do you have a natural talent for it but also the passion and drive. This is it; cosmetology is the career for you. Nothing can stand between you and cosmetology school. Find out more about becoming a licensed cosmetologist below.

You may already know, but cosmetology is the umbrella heading. Underneath, there are a variety of careers to choose from. While your cosmetology education should be well-rounded and touch on every aspect of the field, you will probably decide to focus on one aspect of this career when you get out into the real world.

You’ll find there is always a demand for hairdressers or stylists, barbers, skincare specialists, and cosmetologists. However, beyond those careers, there are a plethora of others to consider.

  • Hair color specialist
  • Manicurist
  • Salon owner
  • School instructor
  • Makeup artist
  • Research chemist
  • Salon chain management
  • Beauty care distributor
  • Beauty magazine editor/writer
  • Beauty blogger
  • Cosmetology school owner
  • Beauty care PR/Marketing

And those cosmetology careers listed are just a tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you can dream it up, then you can achieve it!

More reading: Cosmetology Career Advancement

Different Careers in Cosmetology

There are quite a few career options in the field of cosmetology, all of which need schooling and licensing: hair, skin, makeup, or all of the above. Whatever career you choose, and whichever accredited school you attend, be sure to find out your state’s exact requirements by talking to the school admissions office. Learn more about your cosmetology career choices:

Makeup Artist

Main Article: Makeup Artist

Career Talk: Interview with a makeup artist

Boost the confidence of a human canvas: Makeup artists are individuals who use cosmetic techniques to enhance a person’s appearance. A makeup artist's job can take him or her just about anywhere—from a salon or freelance to private clients and movie sets—and provide opportunities of a lifetime.

You won’t need formal education. However, depending on which state you live in, you may need to get certified. Certification programs can take up to six months but leave you with hands-on training and experience.

Makeup artists may travel around the country or stay stationary at a salon/freelance makeup studio. You will provide services for theater productions, movies, prom queens, weddings, television news anchors, and other special events. Sometimes, you’ll work with a team of artists and creative directors, providing insight into the vision of the makeup design. On other occasions, the direction and work will be all yours, as you work solo.

The median annual salary is more than $60K. However, where you live and work can mean more or less money.

Makeup artistry can be divided into the following categories:


Hairstylists, also known as hairdressers, are primarily responsible for cutting and styling hair. Found working in barber shops, beauty parlors, or full-service salons, hairstylists have expert techniques and keep up on the latest trends so clients look and feel their best.

To become a hairstylist, you can attend cosmetology school for a certificate or go to a community college to get your associate degree in cosmetology. In these programs, you will have hands-on experience in both the classroom and real-life settings. You’ll learn new hairstyles, understand the use of each tool, and perform work that will complement your portfolio.

Upon completion of a cosmetology program, to start work, you must get a state license. State licensing exams vary by state but generally include topics like cut and color. By passing the state exam, you will be qualified for employment.

Once on the job, hairstylists must attend to a variety of duties on a daily basis. As a stylist, you are responsible for cutting hair, shampooing and conditioning, styling, and adding color or highlights. You’re trained to provide a multitude of other services, such as scalp treatments, deep conditioning, permanents, and weaving. Each hairstylist has his or her own area of expertise, but you must be able to work with a variety of different hair lengths, textures, and types in order to succeed in this competitive business.

Communication is key within the cosmetology world. You rely heavily on your communication skills to better understand what type of hairstyle your client wants, to hold conversations during the entire process, and to express concerns or needs to an assistant. On top of communication skills, you must be able to manage your time wisely. Because clients are scheduled at a specific time, you need to have the capability to go from one client to the next with ease. From greeting clients to dying hair, each minute spent must be planned strategically in order to fit in every task.

Find a hair-stylist program now.

Nail Technician

Also known as manicure technicians or manicurists, nail technicians provide nail services such as manicures and pedicures. Working in spas, salons, and barber shops, nail technicians are in charge of keeping nails healthy, clean, and fun.

While requirements vary by state, a nail technician or cosmetology certification is typically required. Students learn about anatomy and bacteriology, bookkeeping, salon safety, design techniques, and more. These programs are a shorter track than a complete cosmetology degree and can take anywhere from 100 to 750 hours to complete. Once you complete a nail technician certification course with a passing grade, you are then required to pass the state licensing exam.

Nail tech careers are virtually recession-proof—no matter what the economy is doing, people want to dish out the relatively nominal fee to have manicures and pedicures.

Find a nail technician program now.


Read the main article: "Medical" esthetician

Skincare specialists are a highly valued and important asset to any spa business. As an esthetician, you look beyond the surface to identify any skin-related problems and provide avenues for treatment. Allowing someone to see his or her true beauty is an incredible gift that estheticians have the opportunity to give—one skincare treatment at a time.

Estheticians often find that their role is multifaceted. As a skincare expert, you work alongside patients—and often times, doctors—to identify the best avenue for treatment. Estheticians can be qualified to perform facials, facial massages, chemical peels, eyebrow tinting, hair removal, and makeup application.

Becoming an esthetician requires training in the technology methods that purify, balance and renew the skill. Hands-on training is crucial to your success in the field and is a different track than cosmetology. Most esthetician programs allow you to perform facials, hair removal, body treatments, and apply makeup first hand. Part of your training as an esthetician will also include business skills and wellness therapies. You are required to pass a state certification exam and earn the state-required esthetician license before you can practice.

One career option includes the medical field. Estheticians can choose to specialize as a medical esthetician. This specialty requires further training but can provide opportunities alongside dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Other opportunities can be found working with cancer patients or special needs patients to improve their sense of well-being.

Find an esthetics program now.

Cosmetic Makeup Artist

Cosmetic makeup artists work full time in the cosmetic service industry or at a salon/spa. You, and any other coworkers, answer customer questions, demonstrate application techniques, and give makeovers. You could work in salon settings and be responsible for performing facials, skin consultations, and recommending proper products. As a cosmetic makeup artist, you may do wedding parties, models for fashion shows, customers who require headshots, and other special events. You will need to have a strong understanding of how lighting and photography affect the look of a client’s makeup, plus knowledge of how to emphasize specific areas of the facial structure, such as cheekbones or lips.

Theatrical Makeup Artist

Theatrical makeup artists, also known as special effects artists, are the professionals who enhance an actor’s features or create elaborate and dramatic facial pieces in order to better portray a character. Actors can be made to look young or old, depicted as an alien lifeform, created into a monster, or designed to look dead. Theatrical makeup artists, much like cosmetic artists, must master the art of lighting, the comprehension of distance from a stage to the audience, and the outcome of a camera against the makeup. You will draw from your imagination and love of fantasy. Creating illusions of blood and gore, transforming actors into sci-fi creatures, and molding the human face into something completely new are just a few of the challenging but lucrative makeup jobs you could face on a daily basis.

Successful makeup artists have a passion for design, can communicate effectively and personally, and understand how to take criticism. This career is the highest paying in the entire beauty field.

Find a makeup-artistry program now.

About Online Beauty Classes

Cosmetology programs are available at many beauty schools, community colleges, and trade schools. These programs are offered at the certificate and associate degree levels and require a great deal of practice, in-person observation, and interactive learning. While some schools allow students to complete the classroom portion of the programs at home, the hands-on component must be completed in-person at their respective schools.

Whether online or in the classroom, students should make sure their cosmetology program is accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS). The NACCAS evaluates schools based on their curriculum, facilities, supplies, equipment, rate of licensure, placement rate, and student support services.

Read: Online Cosmetology Classes: Should You Try Them?