Is a Cosmetology Career Right For You?

Considering a career as a cosmetologist? Wondering what a cosmetologist is? Use this guide to discover everything you need to know about cosmetology careers.

Skip to popular topics on this page: What is a cosmetologist? | What does a cosmetologist do? | Choosing a specialty | Where do cosmetologists work? | More cosmetology career resources

What Is a Cosmetologist?

A cosmetologist is an expert in the art and science of hair, skin, and nail care. Cosmetologists are masters of treatments, procedures, and therapies that help clients look and feel their best.

Depending on what state you work in, cosmetologists may also be called a “beautician” or “hair and makeup artist.”

What Does a Cosmetologist Do?

The four basic elements of cosmetology are hair, nails, skin, and makeup. These categories comprise different skills, procedures, and treatments. A licensed cosmetologist receives training in each area, meaning they can use all these skills throughout their careers.

Cosmetologist Job Description

As a cosmetologist, your job is to help your clients look and feel better than when they walked in your door. You might cut, style, and shape their hair; exfoliate, soften, and remove hair from their skin; clean, shape, and paint their nails; apply makeup; or perform some combination of all these services. In some places, you may even do more!

Client relationships are an important part of being a cosmetologist. You need to be approachable and good at listening and communicating, displaying confidence and explaining all options. You may develop close relationships with your clients—one of the many benefits of the profession.

Learn More Before Starting a Cosmetology Career

Do I Have to Choose a Specialty?

You don't have to choose a cosmetology specialty to have a successful career, though many beauty pros do so. If you have a favorite area of cosmetology, you can choose to focus on and work to further your career in that area.

READ MORE: Expand your skills with a crossover program

READ MORE: Explore other beauty careers

One common specialty career for cosmetologists is to become a hair stylist.

Some increasingly popular specialties for cosmetologists are hair braider, permanent makeup artist, and electrologist. You might need additional licensing for certain specialties, so browse our guides on additional beauty programs for more information.

You may choose to be a general service provider, using your skills set in a variety of ways. Consider these common general cosmetology career paths.

Beauty manufacturing sales and marketing

Beauty product manufacturers need to find ways to promote their products. You can offer your expertise by working as a marketing representative or salesperson.

Salon management and ownership

As a cosmetologist, you may be interested in opening your own salon or spa or open a beauty chain franchise location. This is an ambitious path, but it can be rewarding.


Be part of the bride’s special day by offering hair and makeup services.

Beauty Supply Stores

Cosmetologists are often hired as beauty advisors at beauty supply stores, such as Ulta or Sephora. Even drugstores that sell beauty products may hire beauty sales consultants.

While those options may be the most common, there are a number of other unusual and exciting jobs you can apply your cosmetology skills to. When you're a cosmetologist, the possibilities are nearly endless!

Where Do Cosmetologists Work?


Many cosmetologists work in salons. These can be well-known chains, boutique salons, or booth rentals. Salons and, at times, barbershops are common places for new cosmetologists to begin building their client base bases.

READ MORE: Commission salons vs. booth rental salons

Resorts and hotels

Resort and hotel spas cater to visiting tourists. You are less likely to develop a client base working in this environment. But it gives you the opportunity to meet people from all over the country, if not the world, and provide an array of beauty services for occasions ranging from me-days to weddings.

Mobile stylist

Want more freedom, flexibility, and independence in your cosmetology career? Consider becoming a mobile hair stylist or a mobile makeup artist. Or, you could do both while on the road!


Are you a movie buff? Do you like going to live theater or concerts? If so, you should consider working as a cosmetologist in the entertainment industry. In this career you can provide services for live performers and on-screen personalities (and maybe score some free tickets)!

Fashion Industry

Before a model walks on the runway or poses for a photoshoot, they need to look their best—or their kookiest, depending on the designer or theme! You could be the one to style their hair, apply their makeup, or do their nails.


You might choose to pass on your skills to the next generation of cosmetologists as an instructor at a cosmetology school.


A job fit for Wednesday Addams, you may choose to provide services and support for families who've recently lost a loved one and wish to have an open-casket funeral. Mortuary cosmetologists may also earn a degree in mortuary science. Be sure to check your state’s laws.

Which Cosmetology Career is Right for Me?

Cosmetology requires people skills. This could mean chatting with clients who use the salon as a place to socialize, empathizing with those who use their appointments as a time to vent, or quietly servicing those who look forward to their time with you as an opportunity to close down and zone out.

Beyond that, your career path should be steered by your passions, interests, and talents:

  • If you have a creative bent, you might consider the expressive outlet that comes with barbering or working as a hair stylist, nail artist, or makeup artist.
  • If technology is your thing, you might focus on electrolysis, laser treatments, LED light therapy, or permanent makeup.
  • If you’re a natural leader who enjoys shouldering responsibility, you might want to manage or even own a salon.

Other factors may steer you away from a certain career, or at least alter how you proceed:

  • Do you have issues with chemicals or pungent smells? If so, hair and nail work might not be for you. Or, you may need to investigate appropriate protective equipment.
  • Would you have trouble standing on your feet for long periods of time? If so, you might want to avoid a career as a hair stylist or barber and instead consider becoming a nail tech or esthetician. Of course, you could try to find an accommodating salon or open your own!
  • Do you get bored doing the same thing hour after hour? Then consider a career that provides variety, such as a hairstylist, as opposed to a career with more standardized tasks

Are you ready to take the next steps toward a career in cosmetology?

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