Contrary to what some people believe, the job of a cosmetologist is physically demanding. It may not require heavy lifting or rigorous activity, but it does require that the
individual be able to stand on his or her feet for long periods and often to assume and hold uncomfortable positions for a protracted period of time. And there is a lot of repetitive motion in cosmetology. While
you may not need to be able to compete in a triathlon, you still need to be aware of the physical demands of the job.
These physical demands also include working with some fairly strong chemical compounds; some of which don’t have a pleasant fragrance. Even the required practices that don’t
involve harsh chemicals can become problematic. I had a classmate in cosmetology school who developed contact dermatitis from having to constantly wash her hands so often (and from shampooing clients repeatedly).
Another cosmetologist with whom I worked developed a latex allergy from frequent exposure to the rubber gloves we have to wear during chemical services.
There are a lot of stresses besides these physical ones, too. When a client comes to you they often have a picture in their head of what they want their hair to look like, but
have no realistic concept of whether it is possible, or even how to relay their wishes to you. For instance, I once had a 60+ year old white woman with baby-fine hair come to me and tell me that she wanted her
hair to look like Halle Berry’s. I tried explaining in every way that I could, and did my best to approximate what she said she wanted, but she still left my chair dissatisfied. Some people cannot be dissuaded
and you have to learn to deal with them. Occasionally, you can make one happy, or you can explain to them why it won’t work and they’ll accept it. But the ones who get upset or can’t tell you exactly what they
want are going to be a problem in most cases.
Requirements for Licensing
The requirements necessary to become a licensed cosmetologist – and therefore eligible to practice your trade in the area where you live – vary from region to region. In the
U.S. the requirements are set by the individual states, though they do tend to be somewhat uniform. Even across the globe, among the places that require licensure to practice cosmetology, most of the requirements are fairly common.
In most cases, in order to become a licensed cosmetologist, one must complete training in all areas of practice. This may take one of two forms. Some people choose to attend
formal schooling and take classes that teach theory and allow for practical application in school salons to earn the required experience and master the knowledge necessary. Others may choose to follow an
apprenticeship, wherein they work with a licensed cosmetologist (who has gotten a special license to allow him/her to train an apprentice) and learn the craft “on the job”.
Some apprenticeships are paid positions allowing the individual to earn some income while training and others are simply an internship where the reward for the work put in is
the experience and education being received. Generally, the benefit of “school” versus “apprenticing” is that the number of hours you are required to log before becoming eligible to take the examination for a
license is less for those who take the formal classes. In most areas, an apprenticeship has a specific time period requirement as well as an “hours” requirement.
For example, a student taking a full-time cosmetology study program in Georgia can complete his education in one year, and earn the required 1500 hours for a “school” student
inside of that time. By comparison, an apprentice in Georgia must spend a minimum of 18 months as an apprentice and must earn 3000 hours as an apprentice to qualify for the license exam. “Hours” in this case are
awarded for performing specific services. Things like roller sets, permanent wave wraps and crafting hair styles are given values in hours. The hours must be divided among a range of services, so that the
student/apprentice is practiced in all different techniques.
Once the education/apprenticeship and hours are completed, the candidate must take a two part examination that takes place over several hours in the course of a day. The
examination includes a written portion, wherein the theoretical knowledge of the various techniques and processes is assessed. It also has a multi-part practical portion where the candidate must demonstrate
at least a basic mastery of the techniques needed to style the hair and perform various services safely and professionally. Sanitation is a major factor in the testing and can count against a candidate heavily.
NOTE: It is my personal and professional opinion that while there are apprenticeships that provide top-notch training to a prospective cosmetology candidate, these are few and
far between and a candidate is generally far better prepared by taking a certified course at an accredited school. Many of the salons who take on apprentices tend to use them as an inexpensive work force and leave
the bulk of their training and education to the candidate themselves. In addition, most salons have developed their own “short cuts” that while being perfectly legitimate in their own right, are in direct
contradiction to the basic techniques that the state boards want to see demonstrated to verify a candidate’s technical ability. As a result of these considerations, the failure rate in the examination process
is higher among apprentice-trained candidates than among those who took accredited courses in schools.