You’ve always been a whiz with a flat iron, and you are the go-to person when a friend needs a quick bangs cut or a trendy style for a first date. So why not turn your talent into a career as a hairstylist? From coloring and cutting to blow drying and styling, a career as a hair stylist is where your creative mind goes wild and your talents come alive.
Hair stylists, also called hairdressers, are the beauty professionals who cut and style hair. These salon pros also often provide additional services within the cosmetology field, such as manicuring and pedicuring, facials, and waxing, as most state boards of cosmetology require hairdressers to complete a formal educational program or apprenticeship in cosmetology, which encompasses not only haircare services, but nail and skincare services, as well.
In other words, all cosmetologists are hair stylists, in the eyes of state licensing boards, but all hair stylists certainly don’t have to serve as full-service cosmetologists. In fact, many licensed cosmetologists choose to focus their careers specifically on haircare, which incudes the following:
- Coloring, bleaching
- Hair extensions, wigs
- Chemically relaxing, curling
- Cutting, trimming, and styling
- Blow drying, curling, and straightening
Hair Stylist Job Description
Well-qualified hairdressers have a sharp eye for visual esthetics; therefore, they can envision how a cut or style will look on their clients. They are skilled with scissors, trimmers, and shavers, and they possess a wide range of cutting, texturing, and blending techniques to create the desired hairstyle.
In addition to cutting and coloring, hair stylists often style hair for their clients’ important events, such as wedding and black tie events, and successful stylists often work in a freelance capacity, providing haircare services to the film, fashion, television, and theater industries. Some of the most popular stylists travel the globe, working for high-profile clients.
It is common for hair stylists to also focus their craft on a specific subfield of hairstyling, such as coloring or ethnic hair styling. Professional colorists have a sharp eye for color mixing and blending and a deep understanding of chemical hair color, and many high-end salons always keep one or more expert colorists on their staff. Ethnic hair stylists may focus their careers on tending to the needs of a specific group of people. For example, some hair stylists may serve as hair braiders or as natural hairstylists, both of which typically do not utilize any chemical haircare products.
In addition to performing tasks related to hair styling, cutting, and coloring, hair stylists are typically called upon to accomplish a host of tasks throughout their day, such as:
- Consulting with clients on haircare services
- Keeping their work areas/stations cleaned and sanitized
- Maintaining their appointment calendar and client records
- Calling clients to confirm appointments
- Demonstrating and selling retail products sold at the salon
- Ordering supplies and products
Hair Stylist Jobs: Settings and Salary
Hair stylist jobs are typically found in hair salons, although these beauty professionals also work in full-service salons and spas. Outside of the salon setting, hairstylists may work in mobile salons, home-based settings, or as freelancers, traveling to clients to perform haircare services.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of 2012, nearly 76 percent of all hair stylists were self-employed, with just 24 percent working as salaried or commissioned employees.
In addition to owning their own salons, hair stylists often work as independent contractors, renting salon or booth space from salon owners. In this type of setting, hair stylists rent a booth at a salon and pay the salon owner a weekly or monthly lease. They then keep all monies earned from performing their services, minus their lease fee.
Commission-based situations are also quite commonplace, with many salons paying their stylists a percentage of all sales, as well as a percentage of retail product sales. Some salons pay their stylists straight commission, a commission-salary split, or a straight salary, with opportunities for incentives or bonuses.
Regardless of how hair stylists are compensated, the National Accrediting Commission reports that these professionals earn about $50,000 a year, including tips. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that hairstylists earned a mean, annual salary of $27,530, as of May 2013, with the top 10 percent of these beauty professionals earning more a salary of more than $44,220.
Hair Stylist Schools and Training Programs
To become a hair stylist, you must first complete an educational program or apprenticeship in cosmetology that is recognized by your state board of cosmetology. The majority of cosmetology programs range between 1,000 and 2,000 practice hours. While all states recognize the completion of an educational program for licensure as a cosmetologist, not all states recognize the completion of an apprenticeship.
For example, in California, you may either complete a cosmetology program of 1,600 hours or an apprenticeship of at least 3,200 hours, while in Texas the only route to licensure for new cosmetologists is the completion of a recognized educational program of at least 1,500 hours.
Cosmetology programs are comprehensive in design and structure, including not only study in hair styling, but in nails and skincare, as well. Cosmetology programs are found in beauty schools, vocational schools, and junior colleges. These programs usually include both classroom and practical study, with many schools offering full-service salons where stylists can work on real clients in a professional setting.
Courses in haircare and hair styling in a cosmetology program include study in:
- Artificial hair
- Braiding/intertwining hair
- Chemical reformation and application
- Hair coloring
- Hair diseases and disorders
- Hair lightening
- Hair shaping
- Hair styling
- Hair treatments and manipulations
- Set-up and client protection
- Shampoo/conditioning techniques
- Thermal curling
Other courses in a cosmetology program that prepare students to work in the salon industry include:
- Computer skills
- Interpersonal relations development
- Reception and sales
- Safety, sanitation, and bacteriology
- Salon management
- State laws, rules, and regulations
- Work ethics
Following the completion of an approved course of education/training in cosmetology, you will likely be required to take and pass state examinations specific to cosmetology before you can earn state licensure to begin practicing hair styling in your state.
Most states do not require continuing education to maintain state licensure, although it is typical for hair stylists to continue pursuing education and training in their craft as to ensure their skills are current and that they have an understanding of the latest trends in hair styling and coloring.
A practical way to stay up-to-date on the latest news in hair styling and cosmetology industry is to become a member of a professional association, such as:
- Professional Beauty Association
- Salon & Spa Professional Association
- Salon and Spa Professional Trade Association
- Association of Cosmetology Salon Professionals
- National Latino Cosmetology Association