Cosmetologist Salary

What is the average cosmetologist's salary?

While pay can vary across the country, the mean annual wage for cosmetologists, as well as barbers and hairdressers, was $27,490, according to May 2014 information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The annual pay range for this career is broad -- those in the lowest 10 percent earned $17,160 or less, but those in the upper 10 percent earned $45,840 or more. The BLS reports that the highest paying states for professionals in the cosmetology industry, including barbers and hairdressers, were the following:

  • Hawaii: $39,130
  • Washington, D.C.: $37,130
  • Delaware: $35,810
  • Virginia: $34,770
  • Washington: $34,720

What factors influence salary potential in the personal appearance industry?

Experience is the strongest factor that influences salary for general cosmetologists and estheticians, who are professionals focusing on skin care, meaning more experienced professionals usually earn more than new graduates. The ever-changing nature of beauty styles, products and procedures requires that practitioners stay current in trends and breakthrough treatments. A practitioner who doesn't actively pursue ongoing esthetician or cosmetology training and skill development will find themselves competing with less experienced but potentially better trained practitioners who have kept current with the evolution of the industry.

The next most influential factor in the salary of a cosmetologist or esthetician is their work setting. The esthetician jobs with the highest earning potential are those found in hospital settings. In hospitals, estheticians work as part of a team, alongside dermatologists or other medical personnel, to assist in the recovery of patients who have suffered an illness or injury that has compromised the appearance or health of their skin.

Contract cosmetologists, who have the second highest earning potential in the industry, typically work in full service salons where they can establish a loyal clientele. Earning potential for general cosmetologists and estheticians who choose to open their own salon or spa is also high although the workload tends to be significantly higher as well. For these ambitious and entrepreneurial personal care professionals, training in business skills as well as practical personal care skills is essential.

Will additional education increase salary?

Typically, yes. Many states allow estheticians and general cosmetologists to pursue certifications in advanced beauty modalities, such as laser treatments, electrolysis, permanent makeup application (cosmetic tattooing) or teeth whitening. Practitioners are able to offer these services, either as a way to expand the services they offer in their business or as an enhancement to a salon where they are renting or contracting a station. When making decisions about pursuing additional certifications, market research is essential to ensure that the service is currently in high demand.

In addition, ongoing classes and coursework is essential to keep up with styles, trends, practices and procedures. Beauty and fashion are fluid industries, with colors and application technique changing from season to season. Regular advancements in products and equipment need to be incorporated into daily practice, and you'll need to stay on top of any regulatory changes in the industry. For all these reasons, a proactive approach to continuing education and specialized esthetician or cosmetology training is helpful to being successful in the personal appearance industry.

What about tips?

Tipping is customary in the personal appearance industry, and tip earnings are a key part to a professional's earning potential. Tipping 15-20% of the cost of a service is considered typical although customers of high-end salons who feel that their service has been exceptional may tip much more.

As in other professions where tipping is a necessary part of the earnings, the soft skills that make the process fun and comfortable for the client will be very important. Good communication skills, good listening skills, the ability to make quality recommendations and anticipate needs, excellent handling technique and a positive, friendly interface are the skills that will most likely help increase the tip that a client chooses to give.

Is cosmetology in high demand?

Job opportunities for cosmetologists, hair dressers and hair stylists are expected to grow by 13 percent from 2012 to 2022. This job growth, which is considered about average for all occupations, could result in 77,600 new positions becoming available during this time, reports the BLS. As people retire from the field, they may also create opportunities for cosmetology professionals who are just entering the field or looking for advancement.

Is there room for advancement?

Cosmetologists, as well as hair stylists, may be able to find some of the highest-paying work at high-end salons. Many cosmetology schools also offer advanced training, ranging from two- to five-day seminars, to enable cosmetologists to continue their education and learn even more skills. Other options include opening your own salon, doing make-up and cosmetology care out of your home or going into business with a partner. According to the BLS, a number of cosmetologists, hair dressers and hair stylists go on to open their own businesses after gaining several years of job experience working with clientele.


  1. Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/barbers-hairdressers-and-cosmetologists.htm
  2. Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes395012.htm

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