What are cosmetology working conditions like?

Difference between cosmetologist and esthetician

As a cosmetologist, your daily duties are wide and varied – but require you to be very creative. From prepping your station and restocking styling products to sweeping the salon floor and answering the phone, there’s so much to do even before your day truly begins.

And then there’s, of course, the fun part: the styling, cutting, coloring and reshaping. A haircut, a dye job, styling extensions or even squeezing in a quick brow wax – your customers will come to you, wanting to change the way they look and feel.

Because of these varied duties, it’s important to stay on your toes if you’re to survive in this fast-paced environment. From the working hours and typical responsibilities to the differences between a hair stylist, esthetician and nail technician, here’s more on what working conditions are like in the cosmetology industry.

What are the Working Hours Like?

The standard working week for a cosmetologist is 40 hours. After getting your license, most cosmetologists will start out by working at a full-service salon (which might be in a hotel, spa or a standalone salon) to gain experience and slowly build up their client base.

Most salons will set their own hours (it’s usually 9AM to 6PM) but some may open earlier and others will stay open later. If you work in one of these salons, you’ll usually be expected to be in during those hours in case there are any walk-in clients. If you work in an upscale salon, you might be allowed to set your own schedule.

Many cosmetologists work from Tuesday to Saturday. You’ll usually be permitted to take two days off a week – often, it’s a Sunday and Monday (though some cosmetologists will work a Monday and pick another day to take off). This is because Saturdays are typically the busiest day of the working week.

After all, most people work Monday to Friday so if they’re going to schedule any pampering time, they’ll pick a Saturday.

What are the Typical Duties of a Cosmetologist?

The skills you acquire via practice and what you learn in theory can differ greatly. This means that you’ll soon realize that working as a cosmetologist involves many more responsibilities than you were taught in school.

For instance, despite the name, cosmetologists don’t just work to beautify their clients’ faces, skin and hair. You’ll also need to answer the phone, book appointments, greet customers and clean the salon. You might even need to engage in a little salesmanship – if you need to sell a certain number of beauty products.

And then there’s the really fulfilling part of your job: styling your clients’ hair to perfection or working on their skin so it glows. All to ensure they leave with a smile on their faces. Often, you’ll have to do this with several clients at once. That’s right – multitasking!

Sometimes, your clients might ask you for beauty advice so you need to be prepared to help them figure out what styles would best suit them. Or you might need to work off a photo or a description of what it is that your client wants, no matter how nondescript it might be. This is where your skill as a cosmetologist really comes in.

If just thinking about your cosmetology state test is stressful for you, try relaxing a bit with the ultimate cosmetology exam cheat sheet.

The Different Types of Cosmetologists

A common misconception is that a cosmetologist, hair stylist, esthetician and nail technician are the same role. But there are differences.

An esthetician specializes in aesthetics, so they’ll generally be more knowledgeable in facial and skin treatments, makeup application, waxing, threading and so on. A nail technician specializes in fingernails and toenails, while a hair stylist focuses on (surprise, surprise) hair.

So, where does a cosmetologist come in?

A cosmetologist actually does everything that these three roles do. So, in some ways, they’re pretty versatile. For instance, they can style and cut hair, recommend skin treatments and makeup application tips.

But does that mean they’re better than the other three? Who should you go to if you need, say, a facial?

It doesn’t really matter, to be honest, because a cosmetologist and an esthetician are both licensed professionals. These experts underwent courses and training to specialize in their areas. Likewise, if you needed a haircut or manicure, you could go to a hair stylist, nail tech or cosmetologist.

It just depends on what you prefer. Some people will want someone who’s focused on a particular area of beauty treatments, while others won’t mind a versatile range of licensed talents. After all, it means you won’t need to make appointments for your hair, skin and nails with three different people in three different salons.

So, What’s a Typical Day Like in the Salon?

After arriving at the salon, you’ll review your appointment bookings and check in with the receptionist or salon manager to ensure your clients haven’t canceled or rescheduled. Then, you’ll start prepping your station by stock checking. You’ll restock shampoo, conditioner and any styling products that might be running low.

Your first client will arrive and you’ll start by asking to find out exactly what he/she wants. Then, you can wash, cut, dry and style their hair to what they asked for.

Depending on what your clients have asked for, you might be able to fit around three appointments before having your lunch break.

Your afternoon might then be filled with more complex appointments, such as a color, foil or adding and styling extensions. Or perhaps you’ll have to utilize those MUA skills and make up someone’s face or shape some eyebrows.

Will the Days Be Any Different for a Hair Stylist, Esthetician or Nail Tech?

In terms of structure, no. In terms of the specific tasks, of course! While a cosmetologist’s day may be varied (they might be styling hair for one appointment and then attending to a facial the next), a hair stylist, esthetician or nail tech will be focusing on just their specialties.

So, a hair stylist’s day will consist of hair styling treatments, like:

  • Haircuts
  • Root retouches
  • Balayage applications
  • Highlights
  • Flat tints

An esthetician’s day will be filled with cosmetic facial treatments, such as:

  • Scrubs
  • Superficial chemical peels
  • Body polishes
  • Hair removal treatments

A nail technician’s day will focus on grooming fingernails and toenails by:

  • Manicures
  • Pedicures
  • Applying acrylics
  • Nail shaping and cuticle grooming
  • Applying nail polish

What’s it Like to Work as a Cosmetologist?

Most cosmetologists will work in clean, brightly-lit surroundings. Salons are usually pleasant places to be around – for both the client and the stylist.

The scents of styling products will fill the air, music will be playing in the background (typically some chart music or some sort of tranquil instrumental) and the sounds of chatter and hair dryers can easily be heard.

Of course, like with any job, there are some drawbacks.

Drawbacks of Being a Cosmetologist

Spending several consecutive hours on your feet and walking back and forth, for starters. Your feet are likely to be sore if you’re not wearing appropriate, supportive footwear.

And then there’s the need to constantly maintain a bright smile despite liaising with the odd difficult and slightly demanding client (every cosmetologist will know what we’re talking about here!). These can all take a toll on even the bubbliest of personalities.

But, there’s one thing that’ll help those long shifts. In between blasts of the hairdryers, you’ll be chatting to your clients. The ones who you’ll actually enjoy talking to and the ones who you’ll laugh with – and it’s not fake or exaggerated.

The majority of your clients will be just as lovely as the service you’ve been trained to provide. As they sit in your salon chair and you style their hair, they’ll chat to you to pass the time. Because the average hair appointment rarely takes less than an hour. In fact, it’s more like an hour minimum.

If someone’s getting a trim and a blow-dry, it’s approximately an hour. A root touch-up (flat tint) could be around an hour and a half, and a full head of foils could be around three. Hair treatments, such as keratin, or extension applications can take even longer – depending on hair length.

Then, of course, there are nail appointments which can take around 30 minutes and facial treatments which can range from 60 to 90 minutes.

Time Goes By Quickly When You Do What You Love

Basically, what we’re trying to say is beauty treatment times are long. And the more you talk to your clients, the faster the time goes by.

Most of your clients will likely be regulars so the conversation will usually flow quite naturally. You’ll genuinely want to catch up with your client and hear about what they’ve been up to since you last saw each other. And vice versa.

What’s even better is when meeting people from all walks of life and getting the chance to completely change the way they look and feel.

It’s amazing to see their faces light up when they see how you’ve transformed their hair, skin and/or nails and it’s precisely what they envisioned in their minds when they gave you that nondescript request.

The best feeling of all is actually feeling their smile radiate through you because they loved what you did so much, it’s that big.

So, despite the long hours, the sore facial muscles from smiling all day and the potentially aching feet, delighting your clients and being the reason for their happiness that day makes being a cosmetologist totally worth it.

Take a FREE practice test

Find out if you’re ready, with real questions taken from the state board exam.

Select Your State