1. Be at least 17 years old and have completed 10th grade or its equivalent.
2. Be honest on the exam application about any criminal record—a criminal record doesn't necessarily bar you from licensure or employment
3. Demonstrate any one of the following:
Completion of a state-approved cosmetology program
An unrestricted license in good standing from another state
Licensed cosmetology experience in another state for at least the length of a state-approved cosmetology program—three months of work equals 100 hours of training
Completion of an approved cosmetology crossover course if currently licensed as a barber
Completion of an apprenticeship that meets state standards
You may not mix and match the pathways to becoming a cosmetologist in California—for example, by beginning as a traditional student and finishing your program as an apprentice. You must choose one option or the other. However, students may participate in externship programs, allowing them to work in a salon without pay to earn the required hours.
In addition to performing cosmetology services, you must be comfortable acting as a mandatory reporter. Mandatory reporters are legally required to report suspicions of physical or sexual abuse to the proper authorities. You'll be trained in recognizing the signs of abuse by your school or apprenticeship program.
What to Expect From a Cosmetology Program in California
Time to complete a cosmetology program in California
If you are interested in pursuing your cosmetology training through a traditional program, you have many schools to choose from. Effective January 2022, California reduced required training hours for cosmetologists from 1,600 to 1,000, so many beauty schools are still adjusting and may offer either option.
Before enrolling, ensure your school is approved by the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. Board requirements include having enough space for at least 25 students, enrollment of at least 25 students, and a curriculum that meets the state standards. The school can't have a history of unprofessional conduct, such as refusing inspections or noncompliance with requirements.
Your training must consist of a minimum of 1,000 hours of both practical and scientific instruction, including, but not limited to:
Anatomy and physiology
Chemistry of cosmetology products
Hair cutting and dyeing
Hair perming and relaxing
Hair removal (except by use of light waves/rays)
Health and safety
Makeup design and application
Optional specialty classes, like threading and natural hair braiding
What to Expect From a Cosmetology Apprenticeship in California
Time to complete a cosmetology apprenticeship in California
To apprentice as a cosmetologist in California, you need to ensure your program meets specific standards—so verify them before you begin:
The location in which you'll be apprenticing must be licensed.
Your trainer needs to be a licensed cosmetologist who has been approved to train by the board.
Your instruction must cover all the topics included in a cosmetology program.
You must be paid at a graduated rate, but they don't have to pay you for instruction-only time.
You can only practice on members of the public if you've been trained in the techniques you'll be using.
Your training must last a minimum of 3,200 hours over no more than two years and include the following:
39 hours of pre-apprenticeship training on laws and regulations, patron protection, and sanitation and disinfection
220 hours of direct instruction
No more than 8.5 hours per day and 42.5 hours of work and training per week—anything beyond this won't count
California Cosmetology Licensing Requirements
California also dropped its practical exam requirement in 2022, so applicants only need to pass a theory test, administered by PSI. Once you've completed your training or apprenticeship hours, you can apply to take the written exam.
Tests are available in English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese. If the test is not available in your language and you don't speak, read, or write English at a minimum of a 10th grade level, you can request to use an interpreter.
The 120-minute theory test contains 110 questions on Scientific Concepts (30%), Hair Care and Services (40%), Skin Care and Services (15%), and Nail Care and Services (15%). You won't be allowed to have any electronics or notes with you during the test. The board provides sample questions on their theory examination information page.
If you pass your test, you'll receive a photographic license onsite. If you fail, you'll get information on your score, a breakdown of all the content areas, and how many correct answers you need to pass.
California allows cosmetologists moving from other states to become licensed without taking the test if they have a current active license that's in good standing with no disciplinary action or criminal convictions on record. Contact the state board if you have questions about your status.
Cosmetology Specializations in California
California allows cosmetologists to receive additional training in a few different areas. If you're truly passionate about one of these fields as opposed to cosmetology as a whole, you could also choose to earn licensure in one of them instead. Specializations include:
You can also take optional specialty classes while in school to expand your knowledge and abilities, but those areas don't require specific additional certifications.
Cosmetology License Renewal in California
License renewal period
Continuing education required
California requires cosmetologists to renew their licenses every two years, and there are no continuing education requirements. However, if your license hasn't been renewed for five years, you'll need to pass the test again before it's reissued.
Cosmetology Salary in California and Projected Job Growth
Average yearly salary for cosmetologists in California
The average salary for cosmetologists in California is $38,790 ($18.65/hour). If you're able to make it into the very competitive world of theatrical makeup, it goes up to $136,340 ($65.55).
California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology This is the official state board page regarding all cosmetology laws, regulations, and updates. You can apply for your licensure exams, research programs, and file complaints through their site. They also have an active Facebook page that includes both important information and fun articles.
Professional Beauty Federation of California Similar to a union, the PBFC advocates for laws and regulations that will make the industry safer, with input from members. They organize a yearly "Welcome to Our World (W.O.W.)" event, at which lawmakers and their staff receive free treatments by volunteers in order while discussing concerns. You can stay up to date on their actions on their Facebook page.