The Quick Report

How to Become a Professional Hair Designer

Becoming a professional hair designer can be a fun, creative, and fulfilling career. It’s considered the #6 best job you can get without a college degree and there are lots of job opportunities. Here’s how to get started.

A Career in Hair Design

The technical name for a professional hair designer or hairstylist is a cosmetologist. A professional must take a state board exam to obtain a cosmetology license. However, all this can be done without a college degree.

There are lots of opportunities the world over in the field of cosmetology. U.S. News & World Report listed it as the #6 best job you can get without a college degree.

The field of cosmetology allows hairstylists and hair designers lots of flexibility in terms of places to work, work hours, and creative freedom. It’s a great way to express your artistic flair, as well as meet new people. Ways to learn new styles and expand your skills throughout your career are endless.

What Do Hair Designers Do?

Hair designers, also known as Hair stylists, hairdressers, or cosmetologists, perform various tasks related to hair care, styling, and treatment. Here are some basic job duties of a hairstylist:

  • Consultation
  • Hair Cutting
  • Hair Coloring 
  • Hair Styling
  • Hair and Scalp Treatments
  • Chemical Services: perms, relaxers, or keratin treatments.

Hair designers also do additional things for their clients, such as education and product recommendations. 

Hair designers must also keep up with the latest trends and haircutting techniques.

An important part of cosmetology is sanitation and hygiene, which is a major component of a state board exam.


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Other duties include appointment scheduling, communicating with, and managing clients.

How to Become a Hairstylist (cosmetologist)

A college degree is not necessary to become a hair designer. Most people attend a private cosmetology school. However, you should seek out one that is state board-approved. Most of these will require a high school diploma or equivalent. However, some states also provide apprenticeship programs for gaining early practical experience. High school students can often apply when they turn 16 years old.

1. Enroll in a cosmetology school

It’s best to enroll in a state board-approved that offers a full cosmetology program. This will ensure you will receive the education necessary for answering all the questions on the state board exam to obtain a cosmetology license in the state you plan to work in. 

State board-approved schools also usually have financial programs if you need assistance with paying for your education.

2. Complete the required practice hours

Before you can take your state licensing exam in cosmetology, most will require a certain number of supervised practice hours. Many schools offer services to the public at reduced fees that allow students to practice with real clients.

Different states have different requirements for the number of hours. In California, for example, it requires 1,600 hours of supervised practice.

3. Pass the licensing exam

To register for a licensing exam, you must first complete your training program and required practice hours. Then, you’ll fill out an application and pay the required fees.

Although the specifics vary from state to state, in general, most cosmetology licensing exams have both a written and practical portion. Applicants must demonstrate a knowledge of safety, hygiene, and state regulations.

Some states also have subject-specific licensing, for example, in addition to cosmetology, hair braiding.

Before applying for a license, check with the licensing board in the state you plan to work in for specific details.

What you can specialize in with a cosmetology license

Obtaining a cosmetology license opens you up to a variety of career opportunities in the beauty industry. Depending on your interests, skills, and aspirations, you can explore various avenues within the beauty industry to build a successful and rewarding career.

With an education in cosmetology, you can learn all of the following skills. Here’s a list showing some of the potential career paths you can take:

1. Hair Stylist

Provide hair cutting, coloring, and styling services in salons or as a freelance stylist.

2. Esthetician

Perform skincare treatments such as facials, exfoliation, and waxing to help clients improve their skin’s health and appearance.

3. Nail Technician

Offer manicures, pedicures, and nail enhancements, including acrylic or gel nails, to clients in salons or spas.

4. Makeup Artist

Apply makeup for special occasions such as weddings, photo shoots, or events, or work in the fashion and entertainment industry.

5. Celebrity Stylist/Artist

Provide beauty services to celebrities, work on film sets, red carpet events, or photo shoots, and build a reputation in the entertainment industry.

6. Beauty Educator/Instructor

Teach cosmetology classes at beauty schools or vocational institutions, sharing knowledge and techniques with aspiring cosmetologists.

7. Product Sales Representative

Work for beauty brands or distributors, selling skincare, haircare, or makeup products to salons, spas, or retail stores.

8. Platform Artist/Demonstrator

Showcase skills and techniques at beauty trade shows, seminars, or events, representing brands or products and providing educational demonstrations.

9. Freelance Artist/Contractor

Work independently as a freelance cosmetologist, offering services on-location for weddings, photo shoots, or other events.

10. Beauty Blogger/Influencer

Create content on social media platforms or blogs, sharing beauty tips, tutorials, and product reviews, and collaborating with brands for sponsored content.

11. Consultant/Adviser

Provide personalized beauty consultations to clients, recommending skincare regimens, makeup techniques, or haircare products tailored to their individual needs and preferences.

12. Salon Owner/Manager

Manage or own a salon, overseeing daily operations, staff, scheduling, and customer service.

13. Spa Manager

Oversee operations and services at a spa, including skincare treatments, massages, and body treatments, ensuring a high level of customer satisfaction and profitability.

14. Medical Esthetician

With additional training, work in medical spas or dermatology clinics, performing advanced skincare treatments such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or laser therapies under the supervision of a medical professional.