Barbers and cosmetologists have a lot in common when it comes to their daily tasks. In fact, there's a fair bit of overlap when it comes to both jobs. For example, washing, cutting and styling hair is considered part of the trade for both professions.
That being said, there are some key differences between the two professions as well. These include distinctions in terms of the full range of services provided in each line of work, as well as differences in terms of what's required for getting a barber license vs a cosmetology license.
Tailored services: A short summary of barber vs. cosmetologist services
To understand the difference between a barber license vs. cosmetology license, it is important to first understand the difference between the two fields, particularly in terms of the services each offers.
A barber usually works predominantly with men, cutting or shaping the hair on men's heads. In many cases, a barber may also groom men’s facial hair, including a close razor shave or simple trim of the beard. While women could use a barber’s services, they generally prefer to go to a hairstylist or licensed cosmetologist instead, where they get a different, more comprehensive type of haircare.
So what is a cosmetologist? Basically, a cosmetologist is someone who gives beauty treatments. These can be treatments to a client’s skin or hair. Services provided include things like manicures, pedicures, body waxing, facials, make-up application, scalp treatments and hairstyling. In other words, a cosmetologist in many ways offers a broader range of services than a barber and also, arguably, requires a wider skill base.
Cosmetology and barber license demands
Now that the jobs are more clear, let’s investigate the essential differences between a barber license vs. cosmetology license.
First of all, it’s important to note that there is what is called a state board of barbering and cosmetology. That is, each state has its own board of barbering and cosmetology. So for example, you have the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, the Board of Registration of Cosmetology and Barbering in Massachusetts and the Cosmetology and Barber Examiners in Tennessee, to name but a few.
Each one of these licensing bodies has different requirements in terms of the level of education you need in order to qualify for your profession of choice. For example, the programs for a barber may include basic skills like hair washing and styling, as well as sanitation, anatomy, esthetics, and even local laws and regulation.
For cosmetologist licensing, the course demands are often more extensive. In this case, you may also need to learn about nail care, facials, eyebrow grooming, and more. Similarly, you may need to do an apprenticeship, or have a certain number of work hours under your belt, before your licensing is complete.
Keep in mind, proper licensing is more than a mere recommendation. Barbering without a license, or offering any hairstyling services for pay without a license is pretty much illegal everywhere. However, if you cut hair or style it for fun, that’s another story. That is, if you do it for free, you're basically free to operate as you please.
Other professional considerations and demands
Of course, licensing is only the beginning in terms of setting up your business for long-term success. Another thing to keep in mind is registration. That is, in addition to your professional licensing you also need a barber or cosmetology business license in order to operate.
Again, each state has its own list of requirements for registering your business and getting your business license. It's important you do the full research in advance, to make sure you comply with all the business registration terms.
Also, with such differences in terms of responsibilities, keep in mind, that you need tailored business insurance according to the different types of services you offer. This means insurance coverage that matches the exact treatments you offer.
So, if you're a barber, you want to look into insurance plans for barbers before you get started. Similarly, if you're a cosmetologist you'll need insurance for cosmetologists customized to your line of work.
Barbers and cosmetologists working together
Now that we've got the similarities and differences covered, you may be wondering, "can a cosmetologist work in a barber shop?" In general, the answer is yes. A licensed cosmetologist can work in a barber shop, but only if a licensed barber is also working there. The same works vice versa. That is, a licensed barber can work in a cosmetology salon, so long as a licensed cosmetologist is also on-hand.
More than that, the crossover can be a great business advantage. Although there is some overlap in terms of the services offered, the two professions are more complementary than competitive.
By working together, you can save on all sorts of expenses. These include big obvious expenses like rent, water and electricity. Plus, you can easily save on less obvious expenses like a shared receptionist, cleaner and even advertising budget.
Then there’s the up-sell opportunity of working together. For example, an in-house cosmetologist offers great added value to a barbershop. Who doesn't want to get their eyebrows done while they wait for their hair dye to sink in? Similarly, a barber can do a bi-weekly stint at a cosmetologist's shop, working as a natural draw to attract more male clientele.
Bottom line on barber license vs. cosmetology license
The choice of whether to become a licensed barber or cosmetologist is up to you. Each has its own appeal. As a barber, there are fewer services you need to master, but that means fewer services to sell. As a cosmetologist on the other hand you have a bigger repertoire, but that also requires accompanying expenses on courses and equipment. Really, it’s a matter of balance and personal preferences at the end of the day.
Just remember, whichever line of work you choose, you need to go about it the legal way. That means getting your professional licensing, filing your taxes, and taking out the insurance you need to fully embrace the new opportunities coming your way.
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