License Requirements for Salon Professionals

Health, safety, and accountability – just three reasons why beauty professionals are state licensed to practice their craft. In addition to serving as a way to let your clients, employers, and customers know you have completed a minimum course of education and/or training to perform the job duties related to your profession, licensing ensures that you are properly trained in areas such as safety, health, and sanitation.

As a licensed beauty professional, you will have learned skin and/or scalp care, anatomy, biology, infection control, chemistry, and the proper use of chemicals and tools as to ensure the safety of both you and your clients.

The Professional Beauty Association (PBA) notes that licensing also allows your clients to know that you:

  • Successfully completed schooling through a recognized institution
  • Learned proper techniques and best practices
  • Successfully passed a state licensing examination
  • Practice proper sanitation procedures as to reduce the threat of infection
  • Care about the safety of your clients and about the integrity of the beauty industry

Licensed beauty professionals are trained to utilize chemicals and tools as to safety avoid injuries and the spread of infectious diseases, staph infections, fungal infections, skin injuries, Hepatitis B or C, HIV, athlete’s foot, lice, and ring worm, among many others.

The licensing of beauty professionals provides both consumer protection and consumer safety and ensures professional accountability. State legislatures grant the state board of barbering and cosmetology with the authority to regulate beauty professionals.

The Dangers of Deregulation in the Beauty Industry

The beauty industry is a licensed industry that involves education and training to ensure both professional and consumer safety. The State boards that oversee licensing have strict regulations that ensure the safety of the services provided. But according to the PBA, some state legislatures are pushing for less government regulation through occupational licensing deregulation. While some organizations see licensing as a roadblock to competition in the industry, the PBA, the beauty profession’s largest professional association, views deregulation as a dangerous prospect.

When clients walk through the door of their favorite salon, they can trust the beautician providing the services is trained, educated, and licensed to do their job.

With industry deregulation, salon professionals would no longer be required to complete an accredited program and salons would no longer be required to maintain strict safety and hygiene procedures. It may also affect how customers would collect if they were injured as a result of a salon procedure.

The PBA notes that deregulation would destroy the professional beauty industry, putting schools and other programs at risk and tearing down an industry that strives to uphold safe practices and professionalism.

Education or Apprenticeship Requirements for Salon Professionals

All states, usually through their state board of barbering and cosmetology, license cosmetologists and barbers. Most states license specific cosmetology specialties, as well, although the type of specialties licensed often vary from one state to the next. In general, estheticians and nail technicians are also licensed beauty professions, while electrologists, permanent makeup artists, and massage therapists may or may not be licensed through their state board of cosmetology or other state licensing board.

A few states also license salon professionals such as natural hair stylists, hair braiders, threaders, waxing specialists, and makeup artists. Louisiana, for example, is the only state to currently offer a makeup artist license (most states require makeup artists to be licensed as estheticians), while Florida offers a hair braider license.

A comprehensive educational program in cosmetology prepares you to become a licensed cosmetologist which, for most states, allows you to practice all aspects of hairstyling, including cutting, coloring, and chemically straightening or curling, as well as skincare and nail care. A comprehensive program in barbering prepares you to become a licensed barber which, for most states, means that you can perform all aspects of hair styling and haircare, as well as skincare and facial hair care.

A few states offer dual-level licensing for some salon professionals, as well. For example, New Hampshire recognizes and licenses both barbers and master barbers, with master barbers licensed to perform chemical procedures.

The majority of states require a program of barbering or cosmetology that consists of between 1,000 and 1,500 hours. For example, New York requires cosmetologists to complete a program of at least 1,000 hours, while Ohio requires the completion of a program of at least 1,500 hours. A few states, like Nebraska at 2,100 hours, require the completion of a much longer program of cosmetology or barbering.

Some states also allow for the completion of an apprenticeship in lieu of a formal educational program. For example, in Delaware, you may complete an approved program of at least 1,500 hours or an apprenticeship of at least 3,000 hours.

Cosmetology specialty licenses, such as esthetician or nail technician licenses, require significantly shorter educational programs for licensure, as these programs are focused on the specific beauty specialty. For example, if you live in California and want to become an esthetician, you must complete an esthetician program of at least 600 hours, while you must complete an esthetics program of at least 1,000 hours if you want to become an esthetician in Alabama.

Board Examination Requirements for Salon Professionals

In addition to the completion of an educational program or apprenticeship approved by your state board of cosmetology and barbering, you must also meet board examination requirements to earn licensure in the state where you practice.

After completing the required education or training for licensure but before qualifying to take the state examinations for your beauty specialty, you must apply for licensure as to allow your state board of cosmetology to review your qualifications and determine if you are eligible to take the required examinations and earn licensure.

Although qualifications for a beautician license vary by state, generally you must possess a high school diploma or GED and be at least 16 years old, although some states, like Washington D.C., may allow you to qualify if you have completed at least the 10th grade.

State licensing examinations usually consist of both a written and practical test, both of which are designed to assess your knowledge and skills of the beauty profession for which you are applying. While some states have developed their own state examinations, many utilize the national examinations developed by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC).

Once you have successfully passed the required examinations for licensure, your state board of cosmetology and barbering will then issue you a beauty license to begin your salon profession. License renewal for salon professionals usually occurs on a biennial or annual basis following the completion of a renewal application and payment of a renewal fee.

Very few states require continuing education for salon professionals, although many beauticians nevertheless routinely pursue continuing education as to stay current in the industry, receive advanced training to explore specialty cosmetology practices, and learn more about business management, marketing, and salon ownership.

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