Cosmetology class in California, 1946

Cosmetology (from Greek κοσμητικός, kosmētikos, "skilled in adornment";[1] and -λογία, -logia) is the study and application of beauty treatment. Branches of specialty including hairstyling, skin care, cosmetics, manicures/pedicures, and electrology.


Individual disciplines within cosmetology

Shampoo technician

A shampoo technician shampoos and conditions a client's hair in preparation for the hair stylist.


A manicure is a cosmetic treatment for the fingernails or hands. The word "manicure" derives from Latin: Manus for hand, cura for "care." When performed on the feet, such a treatment is a pedicure.

Many manicures start by soaking the hands in a softening substance, followed by the application of lotion. A common type of manicure involves shaping the nails and applying nail polish. A manicure may also include the application of artificial nail tips, acrylics, or artificial nail gels. Some manicures can include the painting of pictures or designs on the nails, or applying small decals or imitation jewels. Manicurists usually take special cosmetology courses.


Aestheticians work at salons and day spas. Aestheticians specialize in beautifying the skin. They perform cosmetic skin treatments including hair removal (waxing, threading), massage, body wraps, skin care, eyelash and eyebrow tinting, eyelash extensions, aromatherapy, permanent make up, and make-up application. Aestheticians may also specialize with machine treatments such as non surgical "face lifts" and faradic muscle tone. The specialist may undergo special training for treatments such as laser hair removal and electrolysis. Aestheticians must be licensed in the state they are working in. In order to become one they must complete 260 to 1500 hours of training and pass both a written and hands-on exam. Aestheticians usually work under a dermatologist’s supervision and usually treat cases of acne, hyper pigmentation, maturing, and dehydrated skin conditions.

Nail technician

A nail technician specializes in the art form and care of nails. This includes manicures, pedicures, acrylic nails, gel nails, nail wraps, fake nails, self adhesive nail coverings, etc. Although they are generally trained to recognize diseases of the skin and nail, they do not treat diseases and would typically refer a client to a physician.


An electrologist offers services with the use of a machine. As opposed to the hair removal via waxing offered by an esthetician, hair removal via electrolysis is permanent. High school diploma required.

Hair Stylist

A hair stylist is someone who cuts and styles hair. He or she can also offer other services such as coloring, extensions and straightening. A good hairstylist has a sense of fashion and the ability to know what style will look the best on a client. Hair stylists often do hair for weddings, proms, and other special events in addition to routine hairstyling.

Hair Colorist

A colorist is a hair stylist that specializes in coloring hair. In the US, some colorists are “board certified” through the American Board of Certified Haircolorists. This designation is used to recognize colorists that have a greater level of competency in the industry.

Becoming A Cosmetologist

Electric face mask, circa 1939

General cosmetology courses in the United States focus primarily on hairstyling, but also train their students as general beauticians versed in manicures, facials, etc. In a state-licensed beauty school, a certificate course in general cosmetology typically takes approximately one year to complete. Specialized, non-hairstyling courses such as manicure, facials, or makeup art are usually of shorter duration, lasting anywhere from two weeks to six months, although the most prestigious and exclusive beauty schools may offer much longer courses. In Higher Learning Institutions, an Associate's Degree can be awarded on the path to becoming a cosmetologist.

In the United States, all states require barbers, cosmetologists, and most other personal appearance workers (with the exception of shampooers in very few states, not including CA) to be licensed; however, qualifications for a license vary by state. Licensing for those working with the Military, deceased, and handicapped may vary depending on the state [2] . Generally, a person must have graduated from a state-licensed barber or cosmetology school and be at least 17 years old. A few states require applicants to pass a physical examination. Some states require graduation from high school, while others require as little as an eighth-grade education. In a few states, the completion of an apprenticeship can substitute for graduation from a school, and for many students an apprenticeship in cosmetology is the most expansive way to obtain a hands on education in their respective fields. Applicants for a license usually are required to pass a written test and demonstrate an ability to perform basic barbering or cosmetology services.[3]

In most states, there is a legal distinction between barbers and cosmetologists, with different licensing requirements.[4] These distinctions and requirements vary from state to state. In most states, cosmetology sanitation practices and ethical practices are governed by the state's health department and a Board of Cosmetology. These entities ensure public safety by regulating sanitation products and practices and licensing requirements. Consumer complaints are usually directed to these offices and investigated from there.

Persons interested in practicing cosmetology can graduate from a general cosmetology course and then obtain a license in any of the cosmetology sub-disciplines, or they can choose to study only to become a manicurist or esthetician. Students may choose a private beauty school or one of the many vocational schools which offer cosmetology courses to high school students. In addition, there are national organizations that provide educational and professional information.


Median hourly wages in May 2008 for hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists, including tips and commission, were $11.13. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.57 and $15.03. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.47, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $20.41 according to the United States Department of Labor. Much of this depends on whether the cosmetologist is paid hourly, salary, contract or commission, and whether they rent a booth and have increased overhead expenditures. The cosmetologist's wages may also depend on the ability of the cosmetology professional to market themselves, upsell products and services, and expand clientele and improve client loyalty. Other factors include the size and location of the salon or beauty business, how many hours worked, local tipping habits, and competition from other beauty businesses. The 2003 NACCAS Job Demand Survey suggests that there is a shortage of salon professionals in the working world, so cosmetologists and salon professionals have increased earning power. The salon industry has little to no unemployment.[5]

Cosmetologists are paid in a variety of ways:

Hourly or Commission: Cosmetologist are paid a commission percentage, subject to a guaranteed minimum hourly wage and, and at the end of a pay period, they are paid whichever is the greater of the two. This system is set up to comply with state and federal minimum wage laws.

Hourly plus Commission: In addition to an hourly wage, a percentage of the money made from the provision of services is given back to the cosmetologist as income. Sometimes the percentage is a set amount, and sometimes the cosmetologist must reach a certain goal before the commission is paid.

Booth Rental: All of the revenue derived from services provided is paid to the cosmetologist performing said services. In this arrangement, the cosmetologist is an independent contractor and pays a rental fee or a "chair fee" for the usage of salon facilities. Typically the cosmetologist has to provide all of their own supplies and book their own appointments.

Hourly: Strictly hourly wage; most of the time cosmetologists keep their own client tips, but sometime client tips are pooled and distributed evenly amongst all beauty professionals working in the salon (tip pools are illegal in many states). Many corporate and small chains are trending toward this compensation structure, for it promotes a more controlled product by ensuring that employees are responsible for following company standards and policies.

Tips: Cosmetologists often make a considerable portion of their income from client tips.

Product Sales: Usually a commission is given on retail products sold, regardless of compensatory structure.

Occupational Hazards

Many chemicals in salon products pose potential health risks, the majority of which are not well regulated. Examples of hazardous chemicals found in common treatments (i.e. hair coloring, straightening, perms, relaxers, Keratin treatments, Brazilian Blowouts and nail treatments) include dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, lye (sodium hydroxide), ammonia, and coal tar. It is important to understand these risks and take appropriate measures to reduce exposure. Allergies and dermatitis are health problems that have forced approximately 20% of hairdressers to stop practicing their profession.[6]

Chemical Exposures

Dibutyl phthalate

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is a common ingredient found in nail enamels and hardeners. DBP is a plasticizer that is used because of its flexibility and film forming properties, making it an ideal ingredient in nail polishes. When a polish is applied, it dries to the nail as some of the other chemicals volatilize. DBP is a chemical that remains on the nail, making the polish less brittle and apt to crack. The chemical may not only be absorbed through the nail, but through the skin as well. When nail-polished hands are washed, small amounts of DBP can leach out of the polish and come into contact with the skin. The application of nail polish can also provide an opportunity for skin absorption.[7]


Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong smelling gas that poses potential health risks to exposed workers. Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classify formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. Formaldehyde has been linked to nasal and lung cancer, with possible links to brain cancer and leukemia.[8]

Growing evidence reveals that various popular hair-smoothing treatments contain formaldehyde and release formaldehyde as a gas. Four laboratories in California, Oregon and Canada, confirmed a popular hair straightening treatment, the Brazilian Blowout, contained between 4% and 12% formaldehyde. Oregon OSHA demonstrated that other keratin-based hair smoothing products also contain formaldehyde, with concentrations from 1% to 7%.[9]

Salon Worker Exposure to Formaldehyde and Related Health Effects

Formaldehyde may be present in hair smoothing solutions or as a vapor in the air. Stylists and clients may inhale formaldehyde as a gas or a vapor into the lungs and respiratory tract. Formaldehyde vapor can also make contact with mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or throat. Formaldehyde solutions may be absorbed through the skin during the application process of liquid hair straighteners. Solutions of formaldehyde can release formaldehyde gas at room temperature and heating such solutions can speed up this process. Exposure often occurs when heat is applied to the treatment, via blow drying and flat ironing.[10][11]

Stylists and clients have reported acute health problems while using or after using certain hair smoothing treatments containing formaldehyde. Reported problems include nose-bleeds, burning eyes and throat, skin irritation and asthma attacks. Other symptoms related to formaldehyde exposure include watery eyes, runny nose, burning sensation or irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat, dry and sore throat, respiratory tract irritation, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, loss of sense of smell, headaches, fatigue.[12]

OSHA Requirements Regarding Formaldehyde

OSHA requires manufacturers, importers, and distributors to identify formaldehyde on any product that contains more than 0.1 % formaldehyde (as a gas or in a solution), or if the product can release formaldehyde at concentrations greater than 0.1 parts per million (ppm). Material safety data sheets (MSDS) must also be accompanied with the product and kept on premises with the product at all times. The MSDS must explain why a chemical in the product is hazardous, how it is harmful, how workers can protect themselves, and what they should do in an emergency.[13]

Salon owners and stylists are advised to look closely at the hair smoothing products they use (read product labels and MSDS sheets) to see if they contain methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0. According to OSHA's Formaldehyde standard, a product containing any of these names should be treated as a product containing formaldehyde. OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (Right to Know) states that salon owners and other employers must have a MSDS for products containing hazardous chemicals. These sheets must be made available for salon workers. Workers using the product must be made aware of potential health hazards and how to use the product safely. If salon owners or other employers decide to use products that contain or release formaldehyde they are required to follow the guidelines in OSHA’s Formaldehyde standard (29 CFR 1910.1048).[14]

If an employer has difficulty obtaining an appropriate MSDS or further questions they should contact their local OSHA area office for assistance.[15]

Other Exposures & Health Effects

Nail technicians are exposed to a wide variety of chemicals throughout the workday. While working on a client's nails, these chemicals can either be inhaled or come in contact directly with the skin. Both the client and technician are exposed to the chemicals; however, the nail technician provides many of these services throughout the day, repeating the chemical exposures over a long period of time, and therefore is at a much higher risk than the average client. Nail polishes and removers may contain solvents that can be inhaled and lead to feeling light-headed, headaches, nose, throat, lung, skin and eye irritation, nausea, or confusion.[16]

Effects of the central nervous system may occur when a high concentration is inhaled. Chemicals in cuticle removers, such as potassium and sodium hydroxide, can irritate the skin, burn the skin, or damage the eyes. Nail powders can cause allergic dermatitis if they come into contact with the skin, causing itching or rashes. Powders can also contain methacrylates, which cause dermatitis, occupational asthma and are linked to teratogenicity and embryonic-fetal toxicity in long-term exposure animal studies. Nail hardeners may contain formaldehyde that could lead to nail discoloration, loss, or bleeding lips if nails are bitten or chewed. To reduce occupational chemical exposures, check ingredient labels on the products that are used and substitute safer products when available. Use gloves when applying nail products. If any product makes contact with the skin, wash the area as soon as possible to effectively remove all traces of the product. Chemicals that get on the hands can be transferred to the skin or eyes. These chemicals may be ingested if chemicals remaining on the hands are transferred to the mouth through eating or smoking. Using appropriate ventilation and staggering the types of treatments can reduce daily exposures.[17]

A Safe Workplace / Reducing Occupational Exposure

All workers have a right to a safe workplace. To ensure worker safety The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed in 1970. This law was developed in order to prevent workers from being seriously injured or killed at work. The Act requires employers to supply their workers with a hazard-free workplace. OSHA willingly provides information, training and assistance to workers and employers in order to prevent workers from harm on the job. If a worker feels that their employer is not following OSHA standards, or that there are serious hazards in their workplace, they may file a complaint to OSHA to complete an inspection.[18]

Reducing occupational exposures is important to the health and wellness of salon workers. Salon workers should know what chemicals are in their products and how to use them safely in the workplace. All workers should be trained to read product labels and MSDS sheets.

It is also important that salons are well ventilated and that chemical treatments are scheduled later in the day so that workers have reduced exposure throughout their shift. It is recommended to wear gloves and masks whenever possible.

Notable cosmetologists


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  2. ^ "Collection Of Hairdresser State Regulations". Collection Of State Requirements And Regulations. 
  3. ^ Barbers, Cosmetologists, and Other Personal Appearance Workers
  4. ^ Beauty School and Cosmetology School Licensing Requirements
  5. ^ Beauty Schools & Cosmetology Schools Directory -
  6. ^ Reducing chemical exposure is a continual career investment
  7. ^ Environmental Working Group - Does a common chemical in nail polish pose risks to human health?
  8. ^ United States Department of Labor – Safety and Health Topics – Formaldehyde
  9. ^ California Department of Public Health – Q&A: Brazilian Blowout and other hair smoothing salon treatments
  10. ^ Oregon OSHA – Hazard Alert – Hair smooth products and formaldehyde
  11. ^ California Department of Public Health – Q&A: Brazilian Blowout and other hair smoothing salon treatments
  12. ^ Oregon OSHA and CROET - “Keratin-Based” Hair Smoothing Products And the Presence of Formaldehyde
  13. ^ United States Department of Labor – Hazard Alert - Hair Smoothing Products That Could Release Formaldehyde
  14. ^ United States Department of Labor – Hazard Alert - Hair Smoothing Products That Could Release Formaldehyde
  15. ^ United States Department of Labor – Hazard Alert - Hair Smoothing Products That Could Release Formaldehyde
  16. ^ Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. – Occupational Health Hazards in Nail Salons
  17. ^ Cornell University ILR School - Health Hazard Manual for Cosmetologists, Hairdressers, Beauticians and Barbers
  18. ^ United States Department of Labor – Hazard Alert - Hair Smoothing Products That Could Release Formaldehyde

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • cosmetology — 1855, from Fr. cosmétologie, from Gk. kosmetos (see COSMETIC (Cf. cosmetic)) + OLOGY (Cf. ology) …   Etymology dictionary

  • cosmetology — ☆ cosmetology [käz΄mə täl′ə jē ] n. the skill or work of treating with or applying cosmetics, as in a beauty shop; beauty culture cosmetologist n …   English World dictionary

  • cosmetology — noun Etymology: French cosmétologie, from cosmétique cosmetic (from English cosmetic) + logie logy Date: 1926 the cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair, and nails …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • cosmetology — cosmetological /koz mi tl oj i keuhl/, adj. cosmetologist, n. /koz mi tol euh jee/, n. the art or profession of applying cosmetics. [1850 55; < Gk kosmetó(s) adorned, arranged (see COSMETIC) + LOGY, appar. modeled on F cosmétologie] * * * …   Universalium

  • cosmetology — noun a) the science of cosmetics b) the profession of a cosmetologist or beautician …   Wiktionary

  • cosmetology — cos·me·tol·o·gy jē n, pl gies the cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair, and nails …   Medical dictionary

  • cosmetology — study of cosmetics Sciences and Studies …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • cosmetology — n. art of applying cosmetics; cosmetic research …   English contemporary dictionary

  • cosmetology — [ˌkɒzmɪ tɒlədʒi] noun the professional skill or practice of cosmetic preparations and techniques. Derivatives cosmetological adjective cosmetologist noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • cosmetology — cos·me·tol·o·gy …   English syllables

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