Skills a Cosmetologist Needs to Master

What It Takes to Be an in-Demand Cosmetologist

A day at the spa or beauty salon used to be a special occasion reserved for weddings or a day of pampering. Today, they’re a standard beauty regimen for a growing number of people. The vast majority of Americans visit a spa or beauty salon at least once a month, but women aren’t the only ones visiting. Up to 48 percent of men regularly visit a hair salon.

The growing demand for spa and salon services is increasing the demand for cosmetologists. If you have the right combination of skill, creativity and training, you could build a successful career and a thriving business.


Cosmetologist responsibilities range from washing and drying hair to performing facials and makeovers. While most stylists and beauticians work in a barbershop or salon, others may work in hotels and resorts or even department stores. Several cosmetologists start their careers working for someone else and go on to start their own businesses.

Those who aspire to work as cosmetologists are attracted to the field because it offers a chance to show off their flair for creativity and aesthetic sensibilities. On the other hand, it requires an ability to provide the kind of exceptional service required to develop a loyal clientele. Before you can do this, though, you have to have the proper license, which only comes after completing an approved training program.

Typical Cosmetologist Responsibilities

A cosmetologist job description can be summed up in one sentence: It’s your job to make the client look good. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a regular touch-up or a complete makeover for a special occasion. Your career prospects depend on your ability to make the clients look – and feel – better than they did when they first walked into your salon.

Spas and salons have expanded their range of services over the last few years. These are the most common services – and the most frequently practiced procedures in most training programs.


It’s hard to cut and style hair that’s dirty or has product in it, which is why shampooing is a standard part of most visits to the hair salon. It’s also the first job you’ll have as a new cosmetologist – many stylists start off as shampoo technicians, rinsing and conditioning clients’ hair and occasionally applying scalp treatments.

You won’t learn how to shampoo hair in a cosmetology program, since you already know how to wash hair. You may, however, learn how to choose the right shampoo for dry, oily, or color-treated hair; how to give a luxurious scalp massage; or wash extensions and hair plugs so they don’t fall out.


Women and men have always worn wigs. Some wear them to change their appearances or to make their morning regimens shorter. Others are trying to cover up hair loss caused by alopecia, cancer treatment, and other issues. All of these people want their wigs to look stylish and look like natural hair, and a cosmetologist can be a great resource for them.

If a client isn’t sure what kind of wig to buy, a licensed stylist can make recommendations, helping them choose the right style and color and offering suggestions for caring for human hair wigs or synthetic wigs. If the client is wearing a wig, the hairdresser can style and cut it so it fits the wearer to a T.

Hair Weaving

Long, thick, luscious hair can take months or even years to grow. These days, a man or woman can have it in a matter of hours with help from an experienced hairdresser. Since so many people are asking for hair weaves and extensions, you’ll spend part of your cosmetology training learning how to apply it.

Hair extensions can be attached to natural hair with micro-loops or glue or by sewing them into natural hair through a mesh cap placed over the head. Neither process is quick or simple, so the quality of a hair weave varies from one stylist to another. A good stylist can charge thousands of dollars and have clients lining up at the door. However, the ability to add new hair is only one important requirement of an in-demand hairdresser. The other is knowing how to maintain these looks at home and sharing these tips with clients.


For most people, a manicure consists of filing their fingernails and applying a coat of polish. A professional manicurist goes the extra mile to ensure the color is smooth and stays without chipping or peeling. During a typical visit, he or she will:

  • Remove the old coat of nail polish and moisturize the hands
  • Soften the nails with paraffin wax
  • Shape the nails using a manual or electric file
  • Push back or cut away the cuticles
  • Apply a base coat, color, and top coat


Some clients want decoration on their nails, so the manicurist should also know how to paint them in or glue them to the nails. Since a growing number of women are requesting a manicure and pedicure – especially in the warmer months when they’re wearing open-toed shoes – you’ll learn how to give a long-lasting manicure as well as how to give a pedicure.


The marketplace is full of products that help consumers moisturize, cleanse, and exfoliate their faces. However, these products do little to recreate the experience of a relaxing, luxurious spa facial – nor do they come with the tools and expertise an experienced cosmetologist can provide.

In a standard cosmetology program, you’ll learn how to perform all the steps of a facial, including:

  • Exfoliation or microdermabrasion, which removes dead skin cells
  • Extraction of blackheads or whiteheads
  • Facial massage

Since knowledge is one of the most important cosmetology requirements, you’ll also learn how to take care of different skin types. In the spa, you’ll apply special treatments for aging skin, acne-prone skin, and other skin types. What will set you apart, though, is knowing what clients can do to protect their skin from future damage, such as making dietary changes or wearing sunscreen.

Equipment Operation

There aren’t many procedures in the typical cosmetologist job description that can be performed all by yourself. If you want to deliver the kind of service that brings clients back, you’ll need to know how to maintain and operate the most often-used cosmetology equipment, such as:

  • Styling chairs, where clients sit while getting haircuts and other styling services
  • Styling tools, including hair rollers and pins
  • Hair processors and steamers, which are used during hair treatments like coloring and deep conditioning
  • Pedicure tubs, where the stylist soaks and scrubs the feet in preparation for a pedicure


This is only a partial list of all of the equipment used in a spa or hair salon. When you start working in a salon, you’ll be expected to know how to operate them. That’s why cosmetology programs include hands-on experience as part of the curriculum.


At some point, your practice will be so busy that you need to hire other people to perform certain tasks. It’s a good problem to have, but it can become a real problem if you don’t know how to properly train up-and-coming cosmetologists on the most popular services.

Even after you’ve learned the basics of cosmetology in your program, you’ll still need additional training at the start of your career. A senior stylist at your salon will show you how to operate the salon’s equipment and follow salon procedures regarding services and customer relations. Their tips and tricks will help you avoid rookie mistakes and speed up the process of building a loyal clientele.

Over time, you’ll not only take on your own trainees and show them the ropes, but you could also start a second career as a cosmetology instructor.

The Cosmetologist Requirements You Might Not Know

The skills listed above can be learned or improved with training from a reputable CE program. Other skills may not be taught in a cosmetology program, but they’re just as important in running a successful business. Whether you learn them on your own or take additional coursework to master them, your ability to open and maintain a thriving beauty business relies on you possessing the following traits.

An Eye for Fashion

Your clients are looking for more than just a haircut or a makeover – they’re looking for advice on how they can look stylish even when they don’t have time to visit a salon. If they come to you regularly, they’ll probably ask you for these tips, so you need to know what to tell them.


You’ll need to check out beauty and fashion sites to see what’s hot in terms of color and style, not just to pass it on to clients but to inspire you to come up with new styles. You’ll also need to know what will look good on every face you see. What kind of cut will flatter a round face? Which color works best with a client’s particular skin tone? Your clients won’t know, so you’ll need to; especially if you want the client to make a second appointment.

Good People Skills

There’s some truth to the cliché about a woman bending her hairdresser’s ear, but clients expect communication to go both ways. Yes, you may spend a large part of your day listening to stories about bad bosses and inconsiderate spouses, but you also have to know how to talk to clients if you want them to come back.

The best way to build a rapport is to remain upbeat and positive. Your clients may be complaining about their lives, but don’t complain about yours. Also, don’t dominate the conversation – remember, part of your job is to be a good listener. Most of all, you’ll need to treat every client with courtesy and respect. Even the best hairdresser won’t get repeat business if he or she has a reputation for being curt and impolite.

Superior Customer Service

The typical cosmetologist job description may call for you to cut hair, paint nails, and apply makeup, but the job also requires knowing how to create a stellar customer experience. Consumers can get a haircut or a manicure anywhere – some may even do it themselves at home. They’ll come to your establishment not just because you do a terrific job, but also because you do certain things to make them feel appreciated.

Some cosmetologists show their appreciation with free samples of lipstick or shampoo after each visit. Others personalize the experience by offering what a particular client likes, such as a favorite beverage or background music. The little things you do for clients can have a big impact on their satisfaction, which can have an even bigger impact on the success of your business.

Marketing Savvy

It’s one thing to do hair and makeup as a hobby or as a favor to your friends. It’s another to do it for a living. Your success will depend on your ability to earn a comfortable income from your hard work, and this is only possible if you know how to attract clients.


There are several ways to do this. One is to find a way to stand out from your competitors. You might offer services no one else does or cater to a niche clientele. Another is price. You need to charge enough to generate a profit but not so much that people can’t afford it. A third is repeat business. Regular customers are not only more profitable than new ones, they’re also your best marketing tool when they recommend you to their friends.

Organizational Skills

The dream of opening up a salon can be dampened by the reality of running a business. You may have time to cut hair and apply makeup when you have your own salon, but you’ll also spend a significant amount of time:

  • Hiring and training new stylists
  • Purchasing supplies, equipment, and other business services
  • Keeping track of revenues and expenses

Those are the typical cosmetologist responsibilities on a good day. On a bad day, you’ll have to reconcile problems with unhappy customers, unreliable staff, and incorrect deliveries – all while maintaining a professional tone. Good organization is key in either case. Some cosmetology programs offer courses on business management. Even if yours doesn’t, it’s still wise to take a course or two and learn what it takes to manage a successful beauty salon.

Stamina and Dexterity

Applying makeup or cutting hair requires you to have a sharp eye and a steady hand. A client won’t be happy if you smudge her eyeliner or cut too much off the top. A busy stylist is standing for hours on end, performing one intricate task after another, so stamina and dexterity are among the most important cosmetology requirements.

How do you know you can handle the job? You may find out in your program if you’re asked to perform a lengthy procedure like hair weaving. Otherwise, you can find out with a few exercises at home. If you can stand for several hours while performing a variety of hand and finger motions without making a mistake, you have a promising future ahead of you.

A Successful Career Starts With a Solid Training Program

Cosmetology is a terrific field for someone with the right combination of people skills and aesthetic sensibilities. If you’ve got the natural talent for the job, the right continuing education program can help you turn your passion and talent into a thriving career. Visit our site to find the cosmetology CE program that’s right for you.