Whether they run their own salons or work for others, hair stylists use their expertise to help clients find the right hairstyle and offer services to change the texture, length or color of their hair. In some cases, their duties may go beyond just styling hair to also include caring for the skin and nails and helping perform business administration duties. Effective hair stylists are creative, up to date with trends in hair design and willing to learn new techniques. While those working for performing arts companies and high-end salons might make generous wages, the overall average hair stylist income is more modest.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists an average hairdresser salary of $30,490 as of May 2017. Entry-level hairdressers make the least, and some states and industries pay better than others.
Hair stylists provide a variety of services to change the appearance of their clients' hair, and they also offer suggestions on hair care. Considering the client's hair type and desired look, stylists might cut hair, wash and condition it or apply chemical perming and straightening treatments. They also offer coloring services that can range from a few highlights to a double-processing service that involves using bleach before applying the desired color. Hair stylists also use curling irons, blow dryers and flat irons to create styles, and braiding and weaving are also common services.
Depending on their work setting, hair stylists might have additional duties. It's common for stylists to have to take inventory and replenish supplies, including providing their own equipment as necessary. Some also apply makeup, give manicures and pedicures or offer waxing services. Hair stylists who own their own salon may train and direct the stylists who work for them, market their salons online and in the community, keep track of their accounting and handle customer service.
The path to becoming a hair stylist involves having a high school diploma and meeting state cosmetology licensing requirements. The first step to getting a license is to find a cosmetology diploma or certificate program that has state approval. Often found at community colleges and beauty schools, these programs usually take 12 to 18 months of part-time or full-time study. States set how many clock hours stylists must complete for licensure. For example, hair stylists in Maryland, Missouri and Ohio need to complete 1,500 hours, while New York only requires 1,000 hours of study for its hair stylists. Montana requires a much higher 2,000 hours of study.
Cosmetology students spend much of their time learning hands-on techniques for cutting, styling and dyeing hair. Their studies cover shampooing and conditioning, hair types, hair curling and relaxing and use of heat tools. They also learn about the chemistry of hair treatments and the structure of the hair and scalp. Cosmetology programs also provide a broader background in nail technology, skin care, waxing and makeup application. Students also often learn about salon management to become acquainted with the legal aspects, accounting practices, ethics and marketing associated with running a successful salon. Near the end of the program, students often work on real clients at a beauty school or pursue externships for additional experience.
After graduating from a cosmetology program with the state-required clock hours, getting licensed requires meeting age requirements and passing the state board cosmetology exams. These exams usually have a written assessment along with practical exercises showing proficiency in cosmetology services. Hair stylists can begin working after obtaining the license, but continuing education is a common requirement to renew the license.
Some hair stylists choose to get certified in a skill, such as applying hair extensions, using advanced coloring techniques or cutting curly hair. These certifications usually require taking courses from a particular vendor and passing skills exams. Hair stylists may also seek additional business education if they're interested in running salons and hiring stylists of their own.
The majority of hair stylists work for chain and independent salons. Others work for lodging facilities, retail stores, beauty schools, spas, hospitals and performing arts and motion picture companies. Around 43 percent of stylists are self-employed and either run their own salons or share space as contractors with other stylists. The occupation can be strenuous due to the standing required to service clients, and there is a health risk for being around chemicals used for hair treatments.
Hair stylists have the option to pursue a part-time or full-time career in the field. However, they should be flexible since weekend and evening hours are often necessary, as more clients visit for services at these times. Self-employed stylists can set their own hours, but they often spend extra time advertising their salons, handling appointment scheduling and managing finances.
Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data, the average hair stylist income as of May 2017 is $30,490 a year, which works out to $14.66 an hour. The median income is $24,850 a year ($11.95 an hour), meaning that half of hair stylists make less money and half earn more. The bottom 10 percent of hair stylists make a much lower salary of under $18,170 a year ($8.73 an hour), and the best-paid 10 percent get over $50,670 a year ($24.36 an hour).
A hairdresser salary widely varies by industry. Over half work in personal care services and earn on average $30,920 a year ($14.87 an hour). Those working for general merchandise stores and health/personal care stores make lower average annual wages of $22,670 ($10.90 an hour) and $24,660 ($11.85 an hour), respectively. Hair stylists who make the highest earnings work for performing arts companies, where they average $67,090 a year ($32.25 an hour). Those working for other professional, technical and scientific services firms make the second-highest average wage of $39,290 a year ($18.89 an hour).
Location also plays a factor in hair stylist salary potential. The District of Columbia, Washington and New Jersey offer top average annual wages of $45,680, $40,680 and $37,660, respectively. Florida, Nebraska and New York are other states offering top pay. The worst states for hair stylist income include South Carolina, Utah and Louisiana, where the respective average yearly wages are $21,750, $23,820 and $24,130.
As of October 2018, PayScale reports that hair stylist salaries start out lower and increase the most at five to 10 years of experience. On average, a new hairdresser makes $23,000 a year, and this jumps to $28,000 with five to 10 years of experience. With 10 to 20 years of experience, the average hair stylist salary makes a small climb to $29,000. Those with over 20 years of experience average a slightly higher $30,000 annually.
With more people seeking hair cutting and styling services, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that hair stylists can expect fast job growth and good job prospects for the decade spanning 2016 through 2026. The above-average job growth rate of 13 percent for hair stylists, cosmetologists and barbers will add 80,100 positions. Many positions for new hair stylists become available as existing hair stylists change jobs or retire. Those who want to work in high-end salons will need significant experience to compete with other applicants. Learning advanced hair-styling techniques can also help candidates stand out for these positions.