What Is a Beautician? Comparing Beauticians and Cosmetologists

You've probably heard the term "beautician" used for all sorts of beauty professionals—perhaps especially those who do makeup and hair. However, the term is seldom used to refer to a state license or a licensed beauty professional's official title. Today, "cosmetologist" is most often used for this type of education and career.

Let's look at how beauticians compare to cosmetologists.

Are Beauticians and Cosmetologists the Same?

"Beautician" and "cosmetologist" usually mean the same thing. In fact, Merriam-Webster's beautician definition shows cosmetologist as a synonym. Some states, like Georgia, echo this, stating that the definitions for beautician and cosmetologist are the same. Others, like Oklahoma, state that beauticians fall under the cosmetology umbrella.

The biggest exception to this is New Jersey. New Jersey offers a "beauty culture" license, and people with that license are officially called "beauticians." (New Jersey also offers a different license for those who want to be a cosmetologist-hairstylist.) In all other states, the word "beautician" may appear from time to time, but it's not the most common title for licensees.

So, if you want to be what was (and sometimes still is) referred to as a beautician, you usually must complete cosmetology school and get a cosmetology license before you can start working.

READ MORE: Learn more about cosmetology school

Can I Call Myself a Beautician if I Have a Cosmetology License?

Many people with cosmetology licenses call themselves beauticians. You may also find many salons have that word in their names. Though you may want to verify with your state board, chances are, calling yourself a beautician is fine.

What Is a Beautician?

Beauticians fall into two basic categories: Licensed cosmetologists, and people who provide beauty treatments as part of another job. The latter group may have a license, but in many cases, this isn't required. Unlicensed beautician work may legally be done in designated workplaces, though the people offering beauty treatments in such situations can't be paid for those services specifically.

Generally acceptable workplaces for unlicensed beauticians may include:

  • Mental health facilities and institutions
  • Nursing homes and hospitals
  • Prisons
  • Retail makeup locations
  • Volunteer situations

To provide beauty services without a license, you must be employed in another capacity and not get money directly for the treatments you give. For example, depending on state laws, a medical assistant may do nursing home residents' hair and nails so long as they're paid as a medical assistant.

Regarding volunteer situations, you may be allowed to do hair, makeup, or nails for fundraising events so long as you're unpaid.

Are there exceptions? Absolutely! For instance, the state of Indiana says that while those who work in hospitals or prisons are "beauticians," they need a beauty operator license. They can be paid directly for beauty work and not perform other services in this situation.

If you do not have an active cosmetology license, you should check your state's laws or with your state board before beginning to work as a beautician to ensure you're doing everything by the book.

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