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Cosmetologist  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotCosmetologists are beauty generalists. They do everything from hairdressing (working with real hair or wigs and hairpieces) to giving manicures, pedicures, and scalp and facial treatments. They may also apply make-up and teach clients how to use it. Selling products is an important part of many jobs.

Some cosmetologists choose to narrow down the responsibilities and specialize in just one of those fields. Nail technicians are one example -- they are nail care experts. Cosmeticians specialize in make-up. They help clients buy and apply make-up and other beauty products. The term cosmetology is often used as an umbrella to cover all careers in the beauty industry.

"My job responsibilities vary from day to day. Being a cosmetologist, I am licensed to do many different treatments, including facials, manicures, pedicures and facial waxing," says Angela Kreinest. She is a cosmetologist in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. She specializes in hairdressing.

Kristin Ploof is a cosmetologist in Rochester, New York. She performs typical hairdressing services. But she enjoys the variety her cosmetology training allows her. "It is really neat because, as a cosmetologist, you are trained to do so many different things. It is your choice what you do and what you don't do," she says.

dotCosmetologists are employed by salons, spas and other beauty businesses. Some work in retail. Others own their own businesses.

The working hours vary. Many customers seek out beauty services in the evenings and on weekends. Cosmetologists do not often work a typical nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday week. A 40-hour work week is common. Hours may be longer for self-employed workers.

dotIn the U.S., all states require cosmetologists to be licensed. The exceptions are shampooers and make-up artists. Licensing differs from state to state. It is important to check the details for the state where you will work.

Generally, cosmetologists must graduate from a state-licensed cosmetology school. Then they must take a licensing exam. If you are licensed in one state and want to move to another, you will probably need additional training for a license in the new state.

dotDepending on the services a cosmetologist performs, they may come in contact with chemicals. Irritation from these chemicals is a possible risk for workers. They may wear protective clothing like gloves and smocks.

Cosmetologists are often on their feet at work. They perform repetitive actions. This can cause physical strain. But products are being developed to reduce the risks.

"There are cutting stools, which allow you to sit with proper posture and cut, hair dryers that extend from the ceiling on a retractable cord so you're pulling down instead of lifting a heavy dryer and creating strain on your shoulders, and swivel-thumb shears to help prevent carpal tunnel," says Kreinest.

Kreinest says the abilities of a person with special needs determine whether the person can or cannot become a cosmetologist. Angus Mitchell is the son of Paul Mitchell, the famous hairdresser and cofounder of John Paul Mitchell Systems. Kreinest points out that Angus has autism and has become a world-renowned platform hairdresser.

At a Glance


  • Cosmetologists can specialize in one area
  • Check licensing requirements for your state
  • Good people skills are essential