Becoming a Professional Hairstylist

If you love working with hair, you may enjoy a career as a hairstylist. While you may assume that you will only be providing haircuts and coloring, you will actually have a variety of duties depending on where you work.

Therefore, understanding the science and technique of hair care may be just as important as perfecting interpersonal skills and learning basic business sense.

Read on to find out more about this exciting career full of opportunities to shine and grow.

What Does a Hairstylist Do?

Photo of a model flipping her hairThe biggest and most hands-on jobs of the hair stylist revolve around washing, cutting, styling and coloring clients’ hair. This could include highlights, lowlights, perms, balyage, keratin treatments, blowouts, hair extensions and straightening.

The hairstylist must be able to communicate effectively with each client to determine exactly what he or she wishes. The hairstylist should also have knowledge about basic hair and scalp problems.

However, most hairstylists also take part in basic salon business, including administrative and customer service tasks.

This could include answering phones, booking appointments, checking clients out after appointments, cleaning and sanitizing equipment and washing towels.

What Is the Difference between Hairstylists and Barbers?

Not to be confused with a barber, a hairstylist works with male and female clients and may provide additional cosmetology services based on the education he or she received. The barber typically works only with men and can provide razor shaves.

However, both barbers and hairstylists must hold licenses to work in all states.

Where Can a Hairstylist Work?

Photograph of a result of work of a great hairstylistThe majority of hairstylists work in salons and spas. While some work for an employer, many are self-employed and may work out of their own business spaces. Some self-employed stylists may actually rent space in a salon to provide their services.

About 50% of hairstylists are self-employed. Other places that hairstylists may work include:

  • Resorts
  • Cruise ships
  • Spas
  • Department stores
  • Funeral homes
  • Theater and film production houses
  • Fashion houses for runway modeling
  • Magazines for feature shoots and advertising

What Type of Training Does a Hairstylist Need?

girl in college graduation uniformTo become a hairstylist, you must have a high school diploma or GED at minimum. You must then attend a cosmetology school to obtain a diploma, degree or certificate of completion. Cosmetology school may take as little as a few months to over a year.

However, the majority of students complete this education in less than a year. Typical courses include hair care, hair styling and hair coloring.

Hairstylists will need to continue their education if they wish to stay fresh and up-to-date on the latest trends. Some schools offer continuing education online. Other stylists attend special training seminars on location every couple of years.

This will teach them new techniques for coloring, cutting and more and will also keep them up-to-date with current hairstyles.

For example, while very trendy techniques, such as cutting and styling with fire, may not be seen in most salons yet, hairstylists can learn advanced techniques for hair extensions and balyage at seminars.

Do I Need a Hairstylist License?

vector art of a licenseEvery state requires hairstylists to be licensed before providing hair care for compensation. After completing a state-approved hairstylist or cosmetology program, you must complete an examination that typically includes a written portion along with a hands-on portion.

You must know applicable state laws and basic hairstyling techniques and safety principles. During the hands-on portion, you may be asked to perform such techniques as shampooing, hair dying and hair setting.

You may choose to hold a hairstyling license only or a combined cosmetology license depending on your education. If you already hold a license in another state, you may be able to apply for reciprocity so that you will not have to retake the state examination.

Do Hairstylists Need to Carry Insurance?

Carrying personal practice insurance will protect you should a client sue you following a treatment. Many insurance companies offer a high amount of insurance for a very reasonable annual payment.

What Supplies or Equipment Do Hairstylists Need?

fan blowerHairstylists who work for salons or other employers will have most equipment and supplies provided for them. Those who are self-employed but who rent a space in a salon will also have access to necessary supplies but may have to pay a service charge for using such items as chemicals, dyes and extensions.

However, most hairstylists like to have some of their own supplies on hand no matter where they work, such as the following:

  • Brushes and combs
  • Hair clippers and scissors
  • Hair razors
  • Hair dryers
  • Straightening and curling irons
  • Styling products
  • Mirrors

How Much Does a Hairstylist Make and What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hairstylists, barbers and cosmetologists together make an average salary of $24,300 annually and $11.68 per hour. The highest paid hairstylists earn around $47,000 per year while the lowest paid stylists earn approximately $17,000 per year.

As increasing numbers of people are looking for certain hair services, such as coloring and chemical treatments, the need for hairstylists is expected to grow by 10% by 2024.

Wages vary based on whether hairstylists work full-time or part-time, what area of the country they work in, what sort of clientele they attract, what services they provide and how much they acquire in tips.

Are There Any Daily Issues That Hairstylists Must Deal with?

Because hairstylists are standing and holding themselves in unnatural positions much of the day, hair styling professionals may experience physical problems, such as lower back pain, shoulder pain and knee pain. Wearing flat shoes with supportive soles, working on a padded mat and taking frequent breaks to walk or shift positions can help.

Photograph of hairstylist work in progress

Hairstyles are constantly changing, and, as a hairstylist, you must also be willing to change and grow if you choose this field. However, as a creative artist, once you build a strong client base and establish yourself, you will be able to perfect your technique and determine exactly which niche you prefer.

Whether you want to open your own salon someday or want to work for a big name brand in hair care, such as Aveda, getting an education in hair styling is certainly a smart and fun career move.

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