Barbers and cosmetologists are both colleagues and competitors. They typically work in barber shops, beauty salons, hotels, resorts or spas, providing personal services, especially hair care. You can get your hair cut wherever you want, but barbers usually serve men, while cosmetologists serve both women and men and usually provide more kinds of services. In many states, the law divides the two jobs with different training and licensing requirements.
Even if you've been cutting hair since age 12, you have to complete a state-approved training program in barbering or cosmetology to qualify for a state license. High schools, vocational schools and two-year colleges offer training, which usually takes nine months or more full time. Some schools also give two-year associate degrees in the subject. Depending on the state, both programs normally include hair cutting and styling techniques, skin care and sanitation practices, with nail care and limited massage for cosmetologists. Specialized programs in skin care or nail care are also available for separate licenses.
You must have a license in all states, but the particulars vary. Usually, you must be age 16 or older and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. In some states, you can cross the great divide and apply barber training toward a license in cosmetology, or the other way around. Some states even call a truce and give barbers and cosmetologists the same combined license. In general, you must pass a written test and a practical or oral test to get a license. Separate exams and licenses are also available for nail or skin care specialists.
The laws in each state limit what barbers and cosmetologists are allowed to do. Barbers typically wash, cut and style hair, fit hair pieces, dye, bleach and highlight hair and shave men's faces. They apply hairdressings and tonics to the hair and treat the face with cosmetic clays, powders and lotions. Cosmetologists provide all these services, except that barbers often have a monopoly on shaving faces. Cosmetologists still win the contest for the most duties. Depending on the state, they cut and polish fingernails and toenails and put on artificial nails, and they massage the face, neck, hands, feet, arms and body from the shoulders up. (see Reference 6.)
Jobs and Wages
Barbers and cosmetologists often work part time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but almost half are self-employed. Hairdressers and general cosmetologists win the race for jobs, with 357,030 jobs as of 2011 and pay averaging $12.72 per hour, according to the BLS. Skin care specialists, or estheticians, take the lead for wages, with 31,450 jobs at average pay of $15.42 per hour. Manicurists and pedicurists had more than 56,000 jobs and averaged $10.46 per hour. There were only 10,430 barbers as of 2011, but they earned more than general cosmetologists, averaging $13.49 per hour.
Cosmetologists will expand their lead over barbers for job numbers in the coming years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2010 and 2020, the Bureau expects jobs for hairdressers and general cosmetologists to increase by 16 percent, faster than the average of 14 percent for all U.S. jobs. Jobs for manicurists and pedicurists will increase by 17 percent, but skin care specialists will hit the jackpot with 25 percent job growth. Barbers will pick up the rear, with only 7 percent growth during this period.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: What Barbers, Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become a Barber, Hairdresser, or Cosmetologist
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Skincare Specialists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Manicurists and Pedicurists
- Ca.gov: Board of Barbering and Cosmetology -- Barbering Fact Sheet
- Ca.gov: Board of Barbering and Cosmetology -- Cosmetology Fact Sheet
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Barbers, Hairdressers and Cosmetologists -- Work Environment
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Hairdressers, Hairstylists and Cosmetologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Skincare Specialists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Manicurists and Pedicurists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Barbers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Barbers, Hairdressers and Cosmetologists
- National Association of Barber Boards of American: Home Page
- Professional Beauty Association: Home Page
- American Association of Cosmetology Schools: Home Page