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Looking your best has never been easy. It requires the perfect hairstyle, exquisite nails, a neatly trimmed beard, or the proper make-up to accent your coloring. More and more, it also requires the services of barbers and cosmetologists. As people increasingly demand styles that are better suited to their individual characteristics and have available to them a vast array of cosmetic products, they rely on these workers to help them make sense of the different options. Although tastes and fashions change from year to year, the basic job of barbers and cosmetologists remains the sameto help people look their best.
Barbers cut, trim, shampoo, and style hair. Many people still go to a barber for just a haircut, but an increasing number seek more personalized hairstyling services. Barbers trained in these areas work in barber shops and styling salons that serve both men and women. Today, it is common for a barber to color or perm a customer's hair. In addition, barbers may fit hairpieces, provide hair and scalp treatments, shave male customers, or give facial massages. In most States, barbers are licensed to perform all the duties of cosmetologists except skin care and nail treatment.
Cosmetologists primarily shampoo, cut, and style hair, but they also provide a number of other services. These workers, who are often called hairstylists, may advise patrons on how to care for their hair, straighten or permanent wave a customer's hair, or lighten or darken hair color. In addition, most cosmetologists are trained to give manicures, pedicures, and scalp and facial treatments; provide makeup analysis for women; and clean and style wigs and hairpieces. Other workers include electrologistswho remove hair from skin by electrolysisand estheticianswho cleanse and beautify the skin. Cosmetologists generally are licensed to provide all of the services that barbers do except shaving men.
In addition to their work with customers, barbers and cosmetologists are expected to keep their work area clean and their hairdressing implements sanitized. They may make appointments and keep records of hair color and permanent wave formulas used by their regular patrons. A growing number also actively sell hair products and other cosmetic supplies. Barbers and cosmetologists who operate their own salons have managerial duties that include hiring, supervising, and firing workers, as well as keeping records and ordering supplies.
Barbers and cosmetologists generally work in clean, pleasant sur roundings with good lighting and ventilation. Good health and stamina are important because these workers usually have to be on their feet for most of their shift. Prolonged exposure to some hair and nail chemicals may be hazardous and cause irritation, so special care must be taken when working with these chemicals.
Most full-time barbers and cosmetologists work 40 hours a week, but long hours are common in this occupation, especially among self-employed workers. This often includes evenings and weekends, when beauty and barber shops and salons are busiest. Although weekends and lunch periods are generally very busy, barbers and cosmetologists may have some time off during slack periods. One of every 3 barbers and cosmetologists works part time. The abundance of part-time jobs attracts many persons who want to combine a job with family, school, or other responsibilities.
Barbers and cosmetologists held about 709,000 jobs in 1994; 9 of every 10 were cosmetologists. Most worked in beauty salons, barber shops, or department stores, and a few were employed by hospitals, hotels, and prisons. Approximately 4 of every 5 barbers and half of all cosmetologists are self-employed.
Nearly every town has a barber shop or beauty salon, but employment in this occupation is concentrated in the most populous cities and States. Hairstylists usually work in cities and suburbs, where the greatest demand for their services exists. Stylists who set fashion trends with their hairstyles usually work in New York City, Los Angeles, and other centers of fashion and the performing arts.
Although all States require barbers and cosmetologists to be licensed, the qualifications necessary to obtain a license vary. Generally, a person must have graduated from a State-licensed barber or cosmetology school, pass a physical examination, and be at least 16 years old. Some States require graduation from high school while others require as little as an eighth grade education. In a few States, completion of an apprenticeship can substitute for graduation from a school, but very few barbers or cosmetologists learn their skills in this way. Applicants for a license usually are required to pass a written test and demonstrate an ability to perform basic barbering or cosmetology services.
Some States have reciprocity agreements that allow licensed barbers and cosmetologists to practice in a different State without additional formal training. Other States do not recognize training or licenses obtained in another State; consequently, persons who wish to become a barber or a cosmetologist should review the laws of the State in which they want to work before entering a training program.
Public and private vocational schools offer daytime or evening classes in barbering and cosmetology. These programs usually last 6 to 12 months. An apprenticeship program can last from 1 to 2 years. Formal training programs include classroom study, demonstrations, and practical work. Students study the basic services-haircutting, shaving, facial massaging, and hair and scalp treatments-and, under supervision, practice on customers in school "clinics.'' Most schools also teach unisex hairstyling and chemical styling. Students attend lectures on barber services, the use and care of instruments, sanitation and hygiene, and recognition of certain skin ailments. Instruction also is given in selling and general business practices. There are also advanced courses for experienced barbers in hairstyling, coloring, and the sale and service of hairpieces. Most schools teach hairstyling of men's as well as women's hair.
After graduating from a training program, students can take the State licensing examination. The examination consists of a written test and, in some cases, a practical test of cosmetology skills. A few States include an oral examination in which the applicant is asked to explain the procedures he or she is following while taking the practical test. In many States, cosmetology training may be credited towards a barbering license, and vice versa. A few States have even combined the two licenses into one hair styling license. In most States, a separate examination is given for people who want only a manicurist, massage, or facial care license.
Persons who want to become barbers or cosmetologists must have finger dexterity and a sense of form and artistry. They should enjoy dealing with the public and be willing and able to follow patrons' instructions. Some cosmetology schools consider people skills to be so integral to the job that they require coursework in this area. Because hairstyles are constantly changing, barbers and cosmetologists must keep abreast of the latest fashions and beauty techniques. Business skills are important for those who plan to operate their own salons, and the ability to be an effective salesperson is becoming vital for nearly all barbers and cosmetologists.
Many schools help their graduates find jobs. During their first months on the job, new workers are given relatively simple tasks, such as giving shampoos, or are assigned the simpler hairstyling patterns. Once they have demonstrated their skills, they are gradually permitted to perform the more complicated tasks such as giving shaves, coloring hair, or applying a permanent.
Advancement usually is in the form of higher earnings as barbers and cosmetologists gain experience and build a steady clientele. Some barbers and cosmetologists manage large salons or open their own after several years of experience. Some teach in barber or cosmetology schools. Others become sales representatives for cosmetics firms, open businesses as beauty or fashion consultants, or work as examiners for State licensing boards.
Overall employment of barbers and cosmetologists is expected to grow about as faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Population growth, rising incomes, and a growing demand for the services that they provide will stimulate the demand for these workers. Within this occupation, however, different employment trends are expected. Cosmetologists will account for virtually all of the employment growth, reflecting the continuing shifts in consumer preferences to more personalized services in unisex establishments. Demand for manicurists and for cosmetologists who are trained in nail care will be particularly strong. Employment of barbers is expected to decline slightly, but in spite of this decline, a couple of thousand job openings will arise annually for new barber licensees as older barbers retire.
Many job openings will become available in the cosmetology field due to the large size of the occupation and the expected employment growth. This is especially true for entry-level workers who are licensed to provide a broad range of cosmetology services. The level of competition for employment and customers may be greater at the higher-paying, prestigious salons, though, as applicants vie with a large pool of licensed and experienced cosmetologists. The number of part-time and self-employed, booth-renting cosmetologists should continue to grow, creating many opportunities for ambitious people to enter the field.
Barbers and cosmetologists receive income either from commissions or wages and tips. Their median annual income in 1994 was $14,800. A number of factors determine the total income for barbers and cosmetologists, including the size and location of the shop, the number of hours worked, customers' tipping habits, and the competition from other barber shops and salons. A cosmetologist's or barber's initiative and ability to attract and hold regular customers are also key factors, so these workers may play an important role in determining their earnings. In fact, 1 out of 10 barbers and cosmetologists earned over $26,800 in 1994. Earnings for entry-level workers are generally lower, ranging from the minimum wage to considerably more in prestigious or exceptionally busy salons.
A growing number of barbers and cosmetologists rent chairs or booths from salons on a daily or hourly basis. These workers are essentially self-employed, and their earnings are a function of their "book," or clientele list.
Other workers whose main activity consists of improving a patron's personal appearance include beauty consultants, make-up and wig specialists, and salon and health club managers. Other related workers are employed in the cosmetology industry as instructors and beauty supply distributors.
A list of licensed training schools and licensing requirements for cosmetologists can be obtained from:
National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, 901 North Stuart St., Suite 900, Arlington, VA 22203-1816.
Information about barber and cosmetology schools also is available from:
American Association of Cosmetology Schools, 901 North Washington St., Suite 206, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.
For details on State licensing requirements and approved barber or cosmetology schools, contact the State board of barber examiners or the State board of cosmetology in your State capital.
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