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Barber vs. cosmetologist: Differences in education, licensing, and more

Who says a little snip can’t make a big difference? If you’re considering getting a barber or cosmetologist license, it has the potential to launch your career. Employment for both is projected to grow almost 20% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for other professions.

But what’s the difference between a barber and a cosmetologist? While there’s plenty of overlap, we’re digging deep into the different services, education, licensing differences, and business considerations so you can choose confidently between the two. Ready? Let’s get started.

What is the difference between a barber and a cosmetologist?

While there’s plenty of overlap, the services a barber and cosmetologist offer have some crucial differences:

Both cosmetologists and barbers:

  • Wash, cut, style, color, and do permanent waves on hair

Barbers:

  • Shave and trim facial hair
  • Fit, clean, and style a toupée or hairpiece

Cosmetologists:

  • Do scalp treatments
  • Perform facials
  • Offer body waxing
  • Handle manicures and pedicures
  • Apply makeup

So what does that mean? First, it means that a cosmetologist can’t use a straight razor. Additionally, they can’t work in a barbershop unless a licensed barber is also employed there. There’s a bright side: they can offer more services. Cosmetologists offer a suite of services from skincare to makeup and styling for proms and weddings.

Similarly, barbers can’t offer cosmetology services like nail care. If they work in a cosmetology salon, a licensed cosmetologist must also work there. However, a barber can do chemical hair treatments like perms and coloring. And they’re offering services like hair coloring more as the lines between barbershops and high-end men’s salons blur. Barbers can cut men’s hair as well as women’s, though they typically focus on short cuts.

Does that mean that barbers and hair stylists are the same? Not exactly. While both can cut hair, a hairstylist planning to start a salon conventionally works on conventional women’s cuts, offering more coloring, styling, and hair care, with expertise in long hair. Someone opening a barbershop typically works on shorter styles (think clippers, fades, and blends).

Customers seeking expertise in one type of cut will still be better off seeking one or the other, so a big part of choosing between the two career paths is asking yourself what clients you’re interested in serving. And don’t forget to consider opening a mobile salon that could cater to both genders and all styles.

Are a cosmologist and a hairdresser the same? Unlike a cosmetologist, a hairstylist won’t offer makeup application, manicures, pedicures, and waxing but will focus on styling hair. In many states, they have less training than a cosmetologist since they aren’t required to learn skills like manicuring.

What about a beautician? In some states, a cosmetician and a beautician are the same in terms of licensing and training. In practice, beauticians specialize in hair cuts and design, including styling for special occasions like weddings, and skin care, from waxing to facials (estheticians focus on skincare).

Barber vs. cosmetologist: Licensing differences

You’ll need to check out your local requirements for a state hair license for whichever niche is right for you. In many states, state license requirements for cosmetologists and barbers look identical. For example, in Texas, a barber or cosmetologist license requires 1,500 training hours. The difference is whether you’ll choose to enroll in a barber or a cosmetology program. For both, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED.

However, there are significant licensing differences in other states. In California, a cosmetologist license requires 1,600 training hours in cosmetology school plus 3,200 apprenticeship hours, while a barber license requires only 1,500 hours of formal training.

Can’t decide? Dual license programs help new barbers and cosmetologists do it all.

Crossover programs can help you with your second license once you’ve chosen your first. For example, if you’ve completed barber school and licensing, many of your existing hours will likely count toward a cosmetology program, and you’ll just have to learn the skills missing from your first license, then successfully take the cosmetology licensing exam.

Barber vs. cosmetologist: Insurance differences

Licensing and insurance differences both depend on the services you offer—more services can mean more training required but also more business opportunities to serve more clients. Insurance differences also depend on where you offer services and your number of employees and vehicles.

However, most small business insurance plans are comparable between these related professions. Whether you need cosmetology insurance, hairstylist insurance, esthetician or beautician insurance, or barber insurance, you’ll find similar prices on small business plans so you can concentrate on offering the services you prefer.

Barber vs. cosmetologist: Other considerations

While barber and cosmetology licenses take about a year to complete, barbers may earn more once they’ve finished. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cosmetologists earn less ($24,830 versus $33,220). However, since 92% of cosmetologists are women and 74% of barbers are men, the disparity may be due to a wage gap.

How much more can you earn? One job site reports that the top 10% of cosmetologists earn over $58,000, with top-earning barbers earning more than $63,000.

Both groups are almost equally likely to be self-employed. Among cosmetologists, 33% are self-employed, while 32% of barbers are their own bosses. That’s higher than the roughly 6% of U.S. workers in business for themselves. In other words, either position in the hair and beauty industry is a good move for those looking to start and thrive in their own businesses—making the earning potential of this profession limitless. With your salon and employees, you’ll be able to scale your business income as high as an 80s hairstyle.

Own a barbershop or beauty business? Here’s how to get quick insurance online

Knowing what each professional designation can offer helps you decide what’s right for you. Not everyone wants to do makeup, straight-razor shaving, or weddings. Your preferences, talents, and professional aspirations should guide your decision to pursue a cosmetology license or barber license.

And Huckleberry can help you protect your future endeavors with small business insurance, so you can keep growing. Get a quote in less time than it takes to sweep up your station.


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Disclaimer

All content on this page is for general informational purposes only and does not apply to any specific case, is not legal, tax or insurance advice and should not be relied upon. If you have any questions about the situation for your small business or the latest information in your state, you should contact an attorney for legal advice, an insurance agent or broker, and/or your state's labor or industry agency, board, commission or department. Please note that the information provided on this page may change at any time as a result of legislative action, court decisions or rules adopted or amended by any state or the federal government.

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