How to Become a Hairstylist

Many women place more trust in their hairdressers than they do in anyone else. For some, going out in public with an unbecoming do is akin to showing up without pants on. Not only do women rely on hairdressers to keep their tresses looking great, they confide the most intimate details of their lives to these shear-wielding pros.

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Hairstylist?

Hairdresser showing a lady hair colour samples
Matthias Tunger /Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Next to technical skills, manual dexterity—the ability to use your hands and fingers well—and knowledge of fashion and trends, the most important quality a hairstylist must possess is strong interpersonal skills. The ability to both understand and convey information is imperative for anyone who wants to work in this field. Hairstylists cannot do their job if they aren't good listeners. Not only must they be able to hear what their clients say aloud, they must have the social perceptiveness to understand what they don't say as well. Hairstylists must be service-oriented. Their primary focus is serving their customers. Should you become a hairstylist?

Required Training and Education

If you want to work in the United States, chances are good that you will need to attend a barber or cosmetology program that has been approved by the state in which you want to work. Most states require prospective hairstylists to undergo this level of training, while some also stipulate they earn a high school or equivalency diploma.

You can find cosmetology programs at some high schools and at private and public vocational schools. They usually last at least nine months and some grant an associate degree upon completion. To find a program, you can do a search on the American Association of Cosmetology Schools' (AACS) website. According to this organization, tuition costs between $6500 and $10,000, depending on whether the program is located in a rural or metropolitan area. Before enrolling, check with the licensing board in the state in which you want to work to make sure the program is approved. AACS maintains a list of state licensing boards.

These are courses that are typically part of a hairstyling curriculum:

  • Sanitation and sterilization
  • Hair shaping
  • Texturizing
  • Hair extensions
  • Color methods
  • Permanent waving
  • Salon management

A hairstylist's professional development doesn't end with the initial training he or she receives. In order to keep up with the current trends, one usually continues to take courses throughout his or her career.

Getting Licensed

You must be licensed to work as a hairstylist in the US. Requirements vary by state but most require that you are at least 16 years old and have completed a cosmetology program approved by that state or by one with which it has reciprocity. Reciprocity is one state's acceptance of a training program approved by another state. Upon graduation, one takes a written exam. Some states also administer a practical exam during which one must demonstrate his or her styling skills.

Getting Your First Job As a Professional Hairstylist

Many prospective hairstylists work in salons while they are attending school. They may work as shampooers, a job that usually doesn't require professional training. Some are hired for professional jobs upon graduation. Others will have to seek out new opportunities. Many cosmetology school graduates are self-employed. Some rent space in large salons, while others open their own businesses. Other hairstylists choose to become employees of salons. What qualities are salon owners seeking? This will vary by employer, but these specifications taken from job announcements found in various sources will give you an idea:

  • "Must be friendly and motivated."
  • "Ability to work independently and as part of a team."
  • "Experienced with color."
  • "Experienced with latest salon techniques."
  • "Ability to build and maintain strong customer relationships."
  • "Excellent cleanliness and sanitation skills."

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