salon education

Industry • Best Practice

Salon Education: The Complete Guide

Wherever you are in your cosmetology journey, there’s always something to learn. Here are the resources you need at every level of the beauty biz.

Life-long learning plays an important role in virtually every corner of the beauty industry, from the very beginning to the very end of your career. Sure, regulations demand a certain amount of education before you can become a stylist, and others require even further training to keep your license once you’ve got it. But beyond those imposed standards, keeping your mind fresh and your tools sharp is always a good idea if you want to get ahead. Here’s everything beauty professionals need to know about salon education.

The low-down on becoming a hair stylist assistant

Salon assistants are all-around team players. Because the goal of the job is to make stylists’ lives easier, assistants can end up with a wide-ranging list of responsibilities. That’s also one of the benefits of the job; you get to try a little bit of everything and get up close and personal with all the moving parts of a salon. Get ready to:

  • Welcome clients and work reception

  • Shampoo and dry hair

  • Mix and rinse color treatments

  • Sanitize equipment and sweep floors

  • Clean surfaces and wash towels

  • Or any other task that helps the salon run smoothly.

There are some prerequisites to becoming a hairstylist assistant, though — first and foremost, you need to be a licensed cosmetologist. That means graduating from an accredited educational institution, like a beauty school, college, or specialized trade program, followed by the licensing exam, which includes oral and written portions and a set number of dedicated training hours. 

The only exception to that rule is the shampoo assistant — as a shampoo assistant, you can legally perform your (very specific) job duties without a cosmetology license. Then there’s a beauty school loophole: the apprenticeship. Some states allow aspiring beauty professionals to complete on-the-job apprenticeship hours instead of attending an accredited cosmetology program (but you’ll still need to put those hours toward sitting for the licensing exam if you want to be a fully fledged salon assistant or stylist).

Once you’ve completed your studies or your apprenticeship and earned your license, the last step is finding a job as a hair stylist assistant! Even if you don’t have any job experience yet, make sure to share your life skills, professional aspirations, and positive attitude with your potential employer.

If you want to learn more about becoming this backbone of salon life, read our full post: “Want to Be a Hair Stylist Assistant? Get the Low-Down Here.”

5 not-so-easy (but profoundly rewarding) steps to become a hairstylist

Becoming a hairstylist isn’t easy, but all that effort can result in an extremely rewarding career. It can take up to two years or more to go from total beginner to working stylist, but some people complete the journey in as little as six months. Here are the five steps that will take you from student to stylist.

#1: Go to beauty school

Hair education is serious business. Just like salon assistants, stylists need to graduate from state-recognized cosmetology programs. There are a ton of educational tracks you can choose from, so make sure to find a program that works for you. You can take classes in person or online, stay close to home, or study where you dream of working. The cost of beauty school will range greatly depending on variables like these, but so will the opportunities you’re presented with post-graduation.

#2: Get your hours in

Every state requires a different number of training hours before you can receive your cosmetology license. You can expect to rack up between 1,000-1,500 hours of training time depending on where you’re located. It may seem like a big commitment, but investing that time up front helps ensure you’ll be ready to take good care of clients straight out of the gate whenever you get your first salon job.

It’s a good idea to check the hours requirement where you live. Here’s a handy state-by-state rundown: “Cosmetology License Requirements by State (Stylists: Bookmark This!).”

#3: Pass the license exam

In the same way that each state has its own hours minimums, each state also runs its own licensing exam. The written portion of the exam is pretty standard, but some states also require oral and practical portions of the exam. You can check with your local licensing board so the test doesn’t take you by surprise, and then when exam time comes around, take a few deep breaths and show ‘em what you know.

#4: Score a styling job

There’s no one right way to be a professional hair stylist. Some people become a part-time or full-time salon employee, while others prefer to go out on their own and run their own business. Whether you join a salon team, start your own salon, or rent a chair, it’s a good idea to stop and consider where your strengths lie and how you want to grow your career as a stylist over the course of your life.

#5: Keep on learning

Things change fast in the hair world. Keep up with emerging trends, learn new techniques, and keep your skills sharp by taking styling classes throughout your career. Staying invested in your hair stylist education and training is always a good idea. Stay engaged to keep yourself at the forefront of the business and grow your professional caché instead of lagging behind — or worse, getting rusty.

Ready to start your journey toward becoming a stylist? Read our article on “How to Become a Hair Stylist in 5 Not-So-Easy (But Profoundly Rewarding) Steps.”

Sharpening your shears with cosmetology continuing education

Taking an “always be learning” approach to your cosmetology career isn’t just a nice idea — in certain states, it’s also a requirement. In the same way that you have to renew your driver’s license at the DMV, you also need to keep your cosmetology license up to date. Some states require licensed stylists to keep a log of continuing education units to prove that you’re putting in the hours to keep yourself in tip top styling shape.

Like with so many other things in the world of cosmetology, you’ll need to check with your local state licensing board to find out if there are any continuing education requirements. In some states, there are even special stipulations about how you can spread your continuing education units across training categories like health and safety, legal requirements, professional skills, trade shows, and one-on-one mentorship. Depending on where you’re located, you might need to complete between four and 30 continuing education units within each renewal period (which can last for one, two, or three years). 

Look up your state’s regulations and keep brushing up your skills with our full post: “Cosmetology Continuing Education Classes - Your Guide to Sharpening the Shears.”

Must-attend hair shows, salon cons, and beauty events in 2022

Some people like to hit cosmetology cons and trade shows to rack up valuable hair education hours that count as continuing education units. Others attend beauty industry events for benefits like networking, finding products and tools, or uncovering new work opportunities. Whatever your motivation may be, these are some of the most important industry shows you can (and probably should) attend this year.

  • International Beauty Show: Industry leader American Salon presents this major trade show twice a year, once in New York City and once in Las Vegas.

  • America’s Beauty Show: 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of this annual event that’s friendly for beginners and established pros alike.

  • CT Barber Expo: This expo is geared specifically toward barbers in the Northeast region — yes, there will be barber battles.

  • AIIR Gathering IV: In addition to hair education, this two-day retreat takes a holistic approach to helping industry pros find their purpose.

  • Premiere Orlando: This event offers a little bit of everything and bills itself as the biggest beauty show in the country.

  • Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas, NV: With a focus specifically in the B2B part of the beauty world, this event caters toward businesses, technicians, and retailers.

  • Barbercon New York: Barbers travel from all over the world to get a taste of Barbercon’s workshops, classes, awards, and more at festivals in Brooklyn and Dallas.

  • Behind the Chair: If you’re focused on networking, this is the event for you. Plan to leave with new contacts, a little inspiration, and some styling ideas too.

  • Hair Love Retreat: Combine your hair education with industry inspiration and a luxury getaway at this all-inclusive retreat.

  • IMAGE Expo: Respected industry leaders, new products, and exciting beauty developments have kept this educational event going for over a decade.

Want to learn more about these opportunities and catch one in a city near you? Check out our guide to the “12 Hair Shows, Salon Cons, and Beauty Events to Attend in 2022.”

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