Cosmetology is a profession that can include a number of different haircare, skincare, and nail care services. The field includes a wide range of body pampering and beauty treatments for men, women, and children. People who perform these jobs must usually be licensed, and generally undergo specialized training at specialized schools or institutes. They work in many different settings — some people work out of their homes or small shops, while others are on staff with upscale salons or spas.
The art of beautifying the human body has been around for about as long as humans themselves. Most scholars believe that the formal cosmetology field was established in Ancient Egypt, when women of the royal courts sought help styling their hair and applying various skin creams. These early professionals were also in many respects chemists, as many were responsible for actually creating the products they used.
It is rare for modern-day hair and skincare professionals to actually invent their own products, though there is often still a degree of creativity that is involved. Experts are often sought for their expertise on what would looks or styles would suit clients the best. While some can get away with one or two standard services, the job often involves a lot of listening to clients, making assessments about their specific needs, and tailoring services accordingly.
Many of the most easily-recognizable cosmetology services involve haircare. Barbers and hairstylists make up the mainstay of this sector of the field, though shampooers, colorists, and others who work in hair salons usually also qualify. These people devote all or most of their workday to cutting, washing, and styling hair. Some services are relatively simple, like basic trims, but more complex jobs — hair color, perms, updos and formal hair fixing, to name a few — tend to make the work more demanding.
A range of skincare services are also included in the field. Facials, skin clearing treatments, and makeup services are some of the most common. Waxing and other hair removal services like eyebrow threading, electrolysis, and laser eradication also come in, as do specialty services like makeovers and skincare consulting for special events.
Manicurists and nail technicians are also usually considered cosmetologists. These professionals can do everything from basic nail polishing and shaping to the application of acrylic nails and intricate nail art. Manicures, pedicures, and cuticle treatments are all within their range of expertise.
Training and Licensing Requirements
Becoming a cosmetologist is often a lot harder than it seems. Most jurisdictions require professionals to attend specific beauty school programs before they can hold themselves out as experts. These training programs are usually akin to professional schools. Candidates typically enroll after completing their high school studies and coursework can last anywhere from a few months to a year or more, usually culminating in a certificate or diploma.
In nearly all places, graduates must also pass licensing exams before they can begin work. What exactly these exams cover can vary substantially from place to place. Sometimes, aspiring cosmetologists can choose one focus area — haircare, for instance, or manicure services — but in many places, they must qualify to do everything upfront. They can then choose their own specialty when they break into business on their own.
Jurisdictional rules also set parameters on who, exactly, qualifies as a cosmetologist. In many places, anyone who works with another’s hair, skin, or nails must be licensed; in others, only those who perform more “serious” services need to be credentialed. Shampooers, for instance, are considered cosmetology professionals in some places but not others.
Job Hazards and Risks
Depending on the environment, the active practice of cosmetology can present a number of health risks to professionals. Most of the services within the field involve regular exposure to a number of harsh chemicals like hair dyes, acrylic glues, and harsh hair removal creams. Breathing these substances in day in and day out can cause respiratory problems and other health concerns. Many salons place restrictions on how many services professionals can perform within a day in order to restrict exposure; others require regular rotations in order to minimize extended periods of time in confined spaces. Many technicians will also wear face masks or other protective wear such as gloves to help protect their health.