Barbers and cosmetologists focus on providing hair care services to enhance the appearance of customers. Other personal appearance workers, such as manicurists and pedicurists, shampooers, and skin care specialists, provide specialized beauty services that help clients look and feel their best.
Barbers cut, trim, shampoo, and style hair mostly for male clients. They also may fit hairpieces and offer scalp treatments and facial shaving. In many States, barbers are licensed to color, bleach, and highlight hair, and to offer permanent-wave services. Barbers also may provide skin care and nail treatments.
Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists offer a wide range of beauty services, such as shampooing, cutting, coloring, and styling of hair. They may advise clients on how to care for their hair at home. In addition, cosmetologists may be trained to give manicures, pedicures, and scalp and facial treatments; provide makeup analysis; and clean and style wigs and hairpieces.
A number of workers offer specialized services. Manicurists and pedicurists, called nail technicians in some States, work exclusively on nails and provide manicures, pedicures, polishing, and nail extensions to clients. Another group of specialists is skin care specialists, or estheticians, who cleanse and beautify the skin by giving facials, full-body treatments, and head and neck massages, as well as apply makeup. They also may remove hair through waxing or, if properly trained, with laser treatments. Finally, in larger salons, shampooers specialize in shampooing and conditioning hair.
In addition to working with clients, personal appearance workers may keep records of hair color or skin care regimens used by their regular clients. A growing number actively sell hair, skin, and nail care products. Barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal appearance workers who operate their own salons have managerial duties that may include hiring, supervising, and firing workers, as well as keeping business and inventory records, ordering supplies, and arranging for advertising.
Barbers held about 53,000 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of barbers were as follows:
- Self-employed workers - 69%
- Personal care services - 30%
Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists held about 569,600 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists were as follows:
- Personal care services - 46%
- Self-employed workers - 43%
- Retail trade - 10%
Barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists work mostly in a barbershop or salon, although some work in a spa, hotel, or resort. Some lease booth space from a salon owner. Some manage salons or open their own shop after several years of experience.
Barbers, hairstylists, 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, hairstylists, and cosmetologists work full time; however, part-time positions are also common. Those who run their own barbershop or salon may have long workdays. 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.
Education & Training Required
A high school diploma or GED is required for some personal appearance workers in some States. In addition, most States require that barbers and cosmetologists complete a program in a State-licensed barber or cosmetology school. Programs in hairstyling, skin care, and other personal appearance services can be found in both high schools and in public or private postsecondary vocational schools.
Full-time programs in barbering and cosmetology usually last 9 months or more and may lead to an associate degree, but training for manicurists and pedicurists and skin care specialists requires significantly less time. Shampooers generally do not need formal training. Most professionals take advanced courses in hairstyling or other personal appearance services to keep up with the latest trends. They also may take courses in sales and marketing.
All States require barbers, cosmetologists, and other personal appearance workers to be licensed, with the exception of shampooers. Qualifications for a license vary by State, but generally a person must have a high school diploma or GED, be at least 16 years old, and have graduated from a State-licensed barber or cosmetology school. After graduating from a State approved training program, students take a State licensing examination. The exam consists of a written test and, in some cases, a practical test of styling skills or an oral examination. In many States, cosmetology training may be credited toward a barbering license, and vice versa, and a few States combine the two licenses. Most States require separate licensing examinations for manicurists, pedicurists, and skin care specialists. A fee is usually required upon application for a license, and periodic license renewals may be necessary.
Some States have reciprocity agreements that allow licensed barbers and cosmetologists to obtain a license in another State without additional formal training, but such agreements are uncommon. Consequently, persons who wish to work in a particular State should review the laws of that State before entering a training program.
Other Skills Required
Successful personal appearance workers should have an understanding of fashion, art, and technical design. They also must keep a neat personal appearance and a clean work area. Interpersonal skills, image, and attitude play an important role in career success. As client retention and retail sales become an increasingly important part of salons' revenue, the ability to be an effective salesperson becomes ever more vital for salon workers. Some cosmetology schools consider “people skills” to be such an integral part of the job that they require coursework in that area. Business skills are important for those who plan to operate their own salons.
How to Advance
Advancement usually takes the form of higher earnings, as barbers and cosmetologists gain experience and build a steady clientele. Some barbers and cosmetologists manage salons, lease booth space in salons, or open their own salons after several years of experience. Others teach in barber or cosmetology schools or provide training through vocational schools. Still others advance to other related occupations, such as sales representatives for companies that sell salon-related products, image or fashion consultants, or examiners for State licensing boards.
Overall employment of barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
About 85,300 openings for barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Much of the projected employment growth in these occupations is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020 and is likely to occur early in the decade.
The need for barbers and hairdressers will stem primarily from population growth, leading to greater demand for basic hair care services. In addition, an increased demand for hair coloring, hair straightening, and other advanced hair treatments is expected to continue over the projections decade.
Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists continue to compete with providers of specialized services, such as nail and skin care. Consumers often choose manicurists and pedicurists and skincare specialists for these services, rather than to visit hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists for them. Still, employment is expected to grow to meet increased demand for personal appearance services.
The median hourly wage for barbers was $14.41 in May 2021. 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 $10.79, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.60.
The median hourly wage for hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists was $14.26 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.03, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $28.40.
In May 2021, the median hourly wages for barbers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Personal care services - $14.37
In May 2021, the median hourly wages for hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Personal care services - $14.26
- Retail trade - $14.16
Barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists may receive tips from customers. High quality work and customer service usually contribute to greater tip totals.
Many barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists work full time; however, part-time positions are also common. Those who run their own barbershop or salon may have long workdays. 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.