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Nature of the Work
* The proportion who are self-employed is very high, as is the proportion who work part time.
* All barbers and cosmetologists must be licensed.
* Cosmetologists will account for virtually all employment growth; employment of barbers is expected to decline.
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, they must choose from a vast array of cosmetic products and 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 has remained the samehelping people to 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, such as perms or coloring. In addition to these services, barbers may fit hairpieces, provide hair and scalp treatments, shave male customers, or give facial massages. Barbers in most States are licensed to perform all the duties of cosmetologists except skin care and nail treatment, but a growing number of barbers are trained to perform these services as well.
Cosmetologists primarily shampoo, cut, and style hair, but they also perform 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. Cosmetologists generally are licensed to provide all of the services that barbers do except shaving men.
A growing number of workers in cosmetology offer specialized services. The largest and fastest growing of these is manicurists, who work exclusively on nails and provide manicures, pedicures, and nail extensions to clients. Another group of specialists are estheticians, who cleanse and beautify the skin by giving facials, full-body treatments, head and neck massages, and offer hair-removal through waxing. Electrologists, on the other hand, use an electrolysis machine to remove hair. Finally, shampooers specialize in shampooing and conditioning patrons' hair in some larger salons.
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 surroundings 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 longer hours are common in this occupation, especially among self-employed workers. Work schedules may include evenings and weekends, when beauty and barber shops and salons are busiest. Although weekends and lunch periods are generally very busy, barbers and cosmetologists are able to take breaks during less popular times. Nearly half of all cosmetologists are part-time workers, double the rate for barbers and for all other workers in the economy.
Barbers and cosmetologists held 701,000 jobs in 1996. Employment in these occupations is distributed as follows:
Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists 586,000 Barbers 59,000 Manicurists 43,000 Shampooers 13,000
Most of these workers are employed in beauty salons, barber shops, or department stores, and a few are employed by hospitals, hotels, and prisons. 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.
Approximately 3 of every 4 barbers and 2 in 5 cosmetologists are self-employed. Many self-employed barbers and cosmetologists own the salon in which they work, but a growing share of these workers leases the booth or chair where they work from the salon's owner.
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. Full-time programs in barbering and cosmetology usually last 6 to 12 months, but training for manicurists, estheticians, and electrologists requires significantly less time. An apprenticeship program can last from 1 to 2 years. Formal training programs include classroom study, demonstrations, and practical work. Students study the basic serviceshaircutting, shaving, facial massaging, and hair and scalp treatmentsand, 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, basic anatomy, and recognition of certain skin ailments. Instruction also is provided in sales 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, esthetician, or electrolysis license.
For many cosmetologists, formal training and a license are only the first steps in a career that requires years of continuing education. Because hairstyles are constantly changing, barbers and cosmetologists must keep abreast of the latest fashions and beauty techniques. They do this by attending training in salons, at cosmetology schools, or at product shows. These shows offer workshops and demonstrations of the latest techniques and expose cosmetologists to a wide range of products that they can recommend to clients, an important skill as retail sales become a more important part of the beauty salon industry.
Successful barbers or cosmetologists usually 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 such an integral part of the job that they require coursework in this area. 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.
During their first months on the job, new workers are given relatively simple tasks 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. As they continue to work in the field, more training is generally required to learn the techniques used in each salon and to build on the basics learned in cosmetology school.
Advancement usually takes 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. Others teach in barber or cosmetology schools. Other options include becoming sales representatives for cosmetics firms, opening businesses as beauty or fashion consultants, or working as examiners for State licensing boards.
Overall employment of barbers and cosmetologists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Increasing population, incomes, and demand for cosmetology services will stimulate job growth. In addition, numerous job openings will stem from rapid turnover in salons and the large size of the occupation. The extent of competition for jobs and customers may be greater at the higher paying, prestigious salons, however, 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 a dynamic labor market with many opportunities for people to enter the field, particularly workers who are licensed to provide a broad range of cosmetology services.
Different employment trends are expected among barbers and cosmetologists. Cosmetologists will account for virtually all of the employment growth, reflecting the continuing shift 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. In addition, cosmetologists who are trained to provide specialized services such as skin care and manicurists who learn new skills like air brushing should be able to attract more clients. 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.
Barbers and cosmetologists receive income either from commissions or wages and tips. Their median weekly income in 1996 was $290, significantly lower than the $490 for all workers. 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 in determining their earnings. Earnings for entry-level workers are generally lower, ranging from the minimum wage to considerably more in prestigious or exceptionally busy salons.
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 a career in cosmetology is available from:
National Cosmetology Association, 3510 Olive St., St. Louis, MO 63017.
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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