What is a Cosmetology Degree?

The term cosmetology comes from the Greek words kosmetikos, meaning ‘beautifying’ and logia, meaning ‘the study and application of.’ Cosmetologists are wellness and beauty practitioners. Their objective is to help people look and feel their best.

Cosmetology degree programs teach students how to apply hair, skin, and nail treatments. These beauty treatments include hair cutting, styling and coloring, eyelash and eyebrow tinting, facials, exfoliation, hydrotherapy, and manicures and pedicures. Hands-on, real-world training is a major component of the curriculum. Most programs also incorporate a module on the business aspects of cosmetology.

Program Options

Note: Students are encouraged to choose a cosmetology program that is accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCAS). Completing an accredited program may help in fulfilling state licensing requirements and finding employment after graduation.

Certificate in Cosmetology – One Year to Fourteen Month Duration
Certificate programs teach only subjects in the major. They are focused on the essential skills required to work in the field of cosmetology.

Associate Degree in Cosmetology – Two Year Duration
A cosmetology associate program combines courses in the major with some liberal arts classes in subjects such as English literature and composition, math, and the social sciences.

Despite the differences described above, cosmetology courses like the following are at the heart of both of these programs:

  • Applicable Science – cells and body tissues, the body’s systems, the pH Scale, chemistry, product classifications, bacteriology, light therapy and electricity, and other scientific topics important to cosmetologists
  • Hair Care and Client Preparation – basic information about hair, scalp and hair disorders, workstation set-up and preparation, performing a hair consultation, preparing the client, shampooing and deep condition
  • Cutting Hair – handling the scissors and comb, sectioning, one-length technique, graduated cutting technique, layered cutting technique, texturing tools and techniques, scissors-over-comb technique, clipper cutting technique
  • Styling Hair – finger waving technique, curl bases and stems, pin curls (flat and volume), roller setting and curl variations, back-combing and back-brushing, half-round brush air forming technique, round brush styling technique, finger drying and palm drying, thermal techniques for curling, thermal techniques for creating waves, thermal techniques for smoothing and straightening, French twist, draped style, chignon (a knot or coil of hair arranged on the back of the head), braids and hair extensions
  • Coloring Hair – understanding natural pigmentation, color wheel and basic color theory, the level system (the degree of lightness or darkness of a color), aesthetic analysis, fundamentals of temporary hair color, patch test (a procedure used before applying hair color to the scalp), fundamentals of vegetable hair color, fundamentals of demi-permanent hair color, chemical actions of permanent hair color, fundamentals of permanent hair color, applying permanent hair color, lightening and toning, covering non-pigmented/white hair, applying dimensional color using foil packets, dimensional color variations, balayage (a technique where hair color is painted onto the hair to create a graduated, more natural looking highlight effect), tri-color, corrective color, hair color cautions
  • Restructuring Hair – introduction to permanent waving, client consultation and precautions, using rods, basic permanent wave, variations of permanent waves, correcting permanent waves, introduction to relaxing hair, chemical hair relaxing, reformation curl
  • Skin Care – structure of the skin, basic skin types, skin conditions, acne, hair growth and removal methods, superfluous hair removal with soft wax, color terminology and theory, eyebrow and lash tinting
  • Nail Care – physiology of the arm and hand, nails and their structure, nail diseases and disorders, workstation set-up and preparation, materials, cosmetics, and equipment, nail shape and length, arm and hand massage, foot massage, manicure procedures, pedicure procedures, pressure points, artificial nails, reflexology
  • The Cosmetology Business – getting a job interview, meeting a potential employer, being a salon/spa employee, getting started at work, opening a salon/spa

Degrees Similar to Cosmetology

Aesthetics and Skin Care
This personal services field is specific to skin health and beauty. Students who want to become estheticians learn about facial treatments, skin treatments, make-up application, and waxing and other hair removal techniques.

Entrepreneurship students learn how to build, promote, and manage their own or others’ businesses. Common classes are entrepreneurial finance, foundations of entrepreneurship, investor relations and funding, new product design and development, and business plans.

Fashion Design
A degree program in fashion design teaches students how to develop artistic ideas and concepts and transform them into wearable clothing and accessories. The typical curriculum is built around the four basic elements of fashion design: color, silhouette/shape, line, and texture.

Students learn that each of these elements can create identity and meaning, they can convey certain emotions, they can be flattering or unflattering, and they can trick the eye. Classes in fashion design programs cover the history of design, fashion sketching, pattern drafting, and computer-aided fashion design.

Fashion Merchandising
Fashion merchandisers combine the art of fashion with the business of fashion. Degree programs in the field cover fashion history, the fashion seasons, and the structure and performance of fabrics. They examine consumer behavior and target markets and look at the processes involved in forecasting trends and product lifecycles, negotiating with manufacturers, determining sales projections, making purchasing decisions, and pricing inventory. They are also about building brands and marketing and creating visual presentations for both brick-and-mortar and online stores. In short, students of fashion merchandising learn to appreciate budgets and spreadsheets as much as design and style.

Massage Therapy
Massage therapy students study the art and science of human touch. They learn how massage and muscle stimulation can relieve physical pain and mental stress and help the body relax, regain mobility, and detoxify. The typical massage therapy curriculum includes courses in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology (the science of body movement), and pathology (the science of the causes and effects of diseases).

Skills You’ll Learn

  • Attention to detail – the work of a cosmetologist is precise, meticulous work
  • Communication and listening skills – these skills are essential to any customer service role
  • Creative mindset – as with any artistic career, creativity and adding individuality to services are a must
  • Manual Dexterity – a cosmetologist’s most important tools are their hands
  • Sales and customer service – knowing how to educate clients and sell them the products that are right for them
  • Self-confidence – cosmetologists learn to instill confidence in their clients
  • Sense of style – cosmetologists appreciate the relationship between self-care, wellness, beauty, and style
  • Stamina – cosmetologists spend a lot of their time on their feet
  • Tact and diplomacy – these skills are the balance to self-confidence
  • Time management – this is vital, especially for self-employed cosmetologists

What Can You Do with a Cosmetology Degree?

Spa or Salon Cosmetologist
Private Practice Cosmetologist
The majority of cosmetology grads work as salaried practitioners, managers, or artistic directors in spas and salons. Positions exist with standalone spas and salons, as well as with operations at high-end hotels, luxury resorts, and on cruise ships. Some cosmetologists are self-employed.

Beauty Editor / Blogger / Writer
This role, of course, calls for both expertise in cosmetology and a love of writing. Employment options include writing and editing for health and beauty magazines or as a freelance blogger.

Brand Representative
Brand reps promote their products to spas, salons, make-up artists, and cosmetics and beauty retailers. They train sales teams on how to sell the products they represent.

Celebrity or Personal Stylist
Some individuals, both famous and not famous, hire personal stylists.

Cosmetics Buyer
Department stores and salon chains are the most likely employers of these professionals, whose job it is to research, select, and purchase various brands for retail sale.

Cosmetology Educator
Cosmetology education programs hire instructors to teach courses in the field.

Editorial and Advertising Stylist
Cosmetologists who work in this role get models ready for editorial and commercial photo shoots.

Fashion Show Stylist
Fashion show stylists prepare models for the fashion runway.

Make-Up Artist
Their hair, skin, and nail knowledge sometimes leads cosmetologists into the field of make-up artistry.

Platform Artist
In the beauty industry, platform artists teach others their craft on stage – on the platform – at hair shows, beauty conventions, and other industry events.

Various opportunities exist in retail stores that sell hair, skin, and nail care products and cosmetics.

State Board Licensing Examiner or Inspector
Because US states require practising cosmetologists to be licensed, there may be opportunities to work as an examiner or inspector.

Television, Film, and Theater Stylist
In this sector, cosmetologists are part of the team that gets actors into their characters.

Wedding and Event Stylist
Cosmetologists who work in this sector are often freelancers.

Career Paths

Learn about your career prospects after graduation.

Read about Career Paths