What is cosmetology? A complete guide to the beauty industry.

Jordan Sternberg

By Jordan Sternberg - Published March 23, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Cosmetology is the study and application of beauty treatments, including hair styling, skincare, makeup, and nail care.

  • Cosmetologists can work on commission, rent a chair in a salon, or operate a mobile business.

  • Cosmetology requires a license, which involves completing an accredited cosmetology program and passing a state licensing exam.

What is Cosmetology?

Cosmetology is a diverse and dynamic field that encompasses a wide range of beauty treatments and services. At its core, cosmetology is the study and application of techniques to enhance an individual's appearance, focusing on areas such as hair styling, skincare, makeup application, and nail care. Cosmetologists are trained professionals who use their expertise to help clients look and feel their best, whether they're preparing for a special occasion or seeking to maintain a polished appearance in their daily lives.

One of the most appealing aspects of a career in cosmetology is the flexibility it offers. Cosmetologists can choose to work in a variety of settings and arrangements, depending on their preferences and goals. Let's explore some of the most common ways cosmetologists structure their careers.

Commission-Based Cosmetologists

Many cosmetologists work in traditional salon settings, where they are paid a commission based on the services they provide. In this arrangement, the salon owner typically provides the workspace, equipment, and products, while the cosmetologist brings their skills and clientele. The cosmetologist receives a percentage of the revenue generated from each service, with the salon retaining the remainder.

Commission-based arrangements can be beneficial for cosmetologists who are just starting out, as they offer a structured work environment and the opportunity to build a client base. However, experienced cosmetologists may find that commission-based work limits their earning potential, as they are not able to set their own prices or keep all of the revenue generated from their services.

Rental Chair Cosmetologists

For cosmetologists who desire more autonomy and control over their careers, renting a chair in a salon can be an attractive option. In this arrangement, the cosmetologist pays a set fee to the salon owner for the use of a workspace and any included amenities, such as utilities and reception services. The cosmetologist is then free to set their own prices, schedule, and product offerings.

Renting a chair can be a great option for established cosmetologists who have a strong client base and are confident in their ability to attract and retain customers. However, it also comes with additional responsibilities, such as managing appointments, ordering supplies, and handling marketing and accounting tasks.

Mobile Cosmetologists

Some cosmetologists choose to take their services on the road, offering in-home or on-location beauty treatments to their clients. Mobile cosmetology can be a great option for clients who prefer the convenience and privacy of receiving services in their own space, such as brides preparing for their wedding day or seniors who may have difficulty traveling to a salon.

Mobile cosmetologists must be highly organized and self-motivated, as they are responsible for managing all aspects of their business, from scheduling and transportation to sanitation and supplies. However, the ability to set one's own schedule and work in a variety of settings can be highly appealing to cosmetologists who value flexibility and independence.

Becoming a Licensed Cosmetologist

Regardless of the career path a cosmetologist chooses, they must first complete the necessary education and training to become licensed in their state. While requirements vary by location, most states require aspiring cosmetologists to complete an accredited cosmetology program, which typically involves a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on practice.

After completing a cosmetology program, candidates must pass a state licensing exam, which tests their knowledge of safety protocols, sanitation practices, and technical skills. Once licensed, cosmetologists must stay current with industry trends and techniques, and may be required to complete ongoing education to maintain their license.


Cosmetology is a rewarding and versatile field that offers a range of career opportunities for individuals passionate about helping others look and feel their best. Whether working on commission in a traditional salon setting, renting a chair to build an independent practice, or offering mobile services to clients in their own homes, cosmetologists have the flexibility to create a career path that aligns with their goals and lifestyle.

By completing the necessary education and training, staying current with industry trends, and delivering exceptional service to their clients, cosmetologists can build successful and fulfilling careers in the beauty industry. With the right combination of skills, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit, the possibilities in cosmetology are truly endless.

Jordan Sternberg

Article by

Jordan Sternberg

Technology executive with experience in a multitude of disciplines ranging from marketing to product development, sales, and beyond. Jordan is a renowned leader and small business expert who is currently serving as EVP of Strategy & Business Development at Growthware where he is one of the cofounders.

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