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A Day in the Life of a Cosmetologist

Cosmetologists are often the initiators of style and change. Cosmetologists help their clients improve on or acquire a certain look with the right hairstyle and hair coloring, manicured nails, and either a properly trimmed beard or carefully chosen makeup, depending on your testosterone and estrogen levels. Cosmetologists also shampoo, cut, color, and style hair and advise clients on proper hair care between appointments. They add permanent waves or straighten hair in addition to giving manicures, facials, and scalp treatments and caring for and styling wigs. This is a profession that requires considerable tact and diplomacy in dealing with patrons. Cosmetologists are people-oriented and must be able to inspire the confidence of those they service. With an emphasis on personalized care and services, cosmetologists must understand the individual characteristics of their clients to be able to choose the hairstyles and makeup colors and tones that are uniquely suited to them. One New York City stylist remarked, “It’s simply important to get to know and understand your clients . . . their likes and dislikes . . . and you work with that, finding styles that enhance aspects of their personality.” The move toward more personalized care and services means that cosmetologists with charm, good communication skills, and the ability to inspire trust in their clients will be very successful. For cosmetologists who work in teams where each member has her own specialty—hair, nails, makeup, etc.—interpersonal skills are crucial for success. Constantly updated skills in new hair treatments and techniques give the ambitious cosmetologist the edge. Many cosmetologists regularly attend classes to improve their trade. Cosmetologists must keep on top of the latest styles and trends in hair fashion and beauty techniques. If you knew next year’s hot hairstyle, you’d be a hit. If you created next year’s hot hairstyle, you’d be a star. The hours in the field are flexible, with some professionals working nine to five, others working nights, and some working only weekends. What’s not flexible is the considerable amount of time cosmetologists spend on their feet. Professionals are also exposed to hair and nail chemicals that could possibly negatively affect their health.

Paying Your Dues

Cosmetologists face varying licensing requirements in different states, but essentially a high school diploma, formal training at a cosmetology or vocational school, and, in some states, completion of an apprenticeship and passage of a state examination constitute the educational requirements. For most cosmetologists, professional training continues throughout their careers. The recently certified stylist can expect to perform duties that amount to sheer drudgery. Newcomers are left to washing, blow-drying, and setting customers’ hair, occasionally being given the task of a simple hairstyle pattern. New workers should perform these tasks with glee, knowing full well that practice makes perfect, and soon enough they’ll develop followings of their own, make better wages, and collect bigger tips. New cosmetologists should be especially careful in following the instructions of patrons and seeking help and direction if unsure of a particular procedure. Remember: This is an industry that relies on the proper use and application of chemicals. Hair and nail disasters can make the cosmetologist and the management of the establishment vulnerable to lawsuits.

Present and Future

In the decades prior to the 1960s, women went to the beauty salon once a week for a wash and set, and hair generally wasn’t done at home. This changed almost overnight with the advent of the “wash and wear” styles, credited to Vidal Sassoon. These styles allowed a client to care for hair at home in between visits to the salon. The industry was forced to adjust by becoming more diverse. Unisex salons started springing up in the 1970s. The 1980s saw the rise of the full-service salon, which included nail and skin care, as well as makeup services. Today’s day spas evolved from these establishments. Women’s tresses have always been their crowning glory, but the extent to which both men and women today rely on their hairstyle as an integral part of their physical identity is significant. Once visited largely by the leisure class, cosmetologists now see clients from every walk of life who are bound together by their sense of fashion and its ever-changing styles and trends.

Quality of Life


At this stage licensed cosmetologists have tried a bit of everything, including styling, coloring, nails, skin care, marketing, and consumer service. They are beginning to discover what they excel at and what they enjoy doing. Depending on the salon for which they work, they may already have begun to specialize in specific procedures such as hair coloring or pedicures.


With five years of experience comes a refined technique, an effortless chair-side manner, an unmistakable style, and with it, hopefully, a faithful clientele—people who will move thousands of miles away, but come for a visit because they must get their hair cut by you and only you. At this point a cosmetologist may be mentoring junior cosmetologists and new hires in the salon or may begin training themselves to become a salon manager. People with their creative juices flowing may train to become the salon’s artistic director. The cosmetologist at this stage should be on the very cutting edge of the latest techniques in styling and coloring.


The cosmetologist should, after 10 years in the business, be a veritable artist with faithful and ever-flocking patrons. The business-minded will most likely be in a managerial role, while the more artistic will be art directors or specialist image creators at their salon. Depending on their level of responsibility, the cosmetologist may still have the flexible hours that first drew them to the field. Others may try opening a business as a beauty or fashion consultant or becoming a sales representative for a beauty products company. Also, at this point, the enterprising cosmetologist could expand his line of service to include other areas of beauty care.