Making people look their best is a passion for many people, and if you have a good eye for style and beauty, you can find a stable career in the field of cosmetology. California may be considered the ideal state for ambitious cosmetologists as it is home to many top dollar clients like Hollywood actresses and other celebrities. However for the same reason, the state has strict regulations on the cosmetology industry to ensure that the proper skills are learned and that sanitary and safety measures are followed.

The career title of cosmetologist can mean different things to different people, but because of oversight by the Department of Consumer Affairs – Board of Barbering and Cosmetology in California, the title does have as specific definition. A cosmetologist is allowed to prep, style, cut and color hair on the body including eyelashes. Cosmetologists are also allowed to give facials, do waxing or tweezing, and give manicures and pedicures, and apply makeup or false eyelashes.

On the other hand, an esthetician for example, is limited to providing less services but can apply makeup and false eyelashes.

Cosmetology Training at Trade Schools

Cosmetology programs must be approved by the state in order for the class time to count for your license. The programs will teach students about hair styling, hair cutting, chemical treatments, weaving, straightening and coloring hair, as well as skin care and make-up techniques. You will also learn about hygiene and sanitation techniques.  The programs consist of 1,600 hours, which is a number mandated by the state.

Most cosmetology schools will have you practicing on real people who come in for discounted services to allow students to perfect their skills, although you may have to pass a round of exams before you are allowed to practice on real clients.

At the L.A. Trade Technical College, each unit is priced at $26, and you are scheduled to take 12 units per semester, meaning each semester, tuition will be about $312. Other costs include equipment priced at about $600, in addition to $658 for textbooks. The program requires 48 units for the certificate program, or two years. The Associate program requires 48 units in cosmetology as well, but adds 18 units in general education.

Other schools, like at the Paul Mitchell school, textbooks and a kit with equipment is included in a total tuition price that varies from campus to campus.

View a list of cosmetology schools in California.

Cosmetology Apprenticeships

As an alternative to a cosmetology school, you might consider an cosmetology apprenticeship.  To qualify, you must be 16 years old and have completed 10th grade or equivalent. Apprenticeship committees provide classroom instruction and help you navigate the apprenticeship process, but you must find a salon to work in yourself.

The program is typically a full-time 2-year program, but can be completed in 19 months by working more hours per week. The state provides a list of approved program sponsors, that you must contact if you are interested in getting an internship. The program sponsor can help you through the process, and may be able to give you contact information so you can find a trainer at a salon.

After you are set up for the apprenticeship, you will be required to attend a 39 hour training session prior to starting work. For the apprenticeship, you must complete 3,200 hours in a salon, and 220 supplemental hours in the classroom. All work completed for the apprenticeship must be done with the trainer present.

Getting your Cosmetology License

At the end of the trade program or apprenticeship program, you must take a state exam to get your license. The exam consists of a written and a practical part. The written consists of 100 multiple choice questions that you must complete in two hours. The practical exam tests you for basic skills, with a focus on proper disinfection and sanitary techniques, or proper consumer safety protocol.

Depending on which type license you are pursuing (Cosmetologist, Barber, Electrologist, Esthetician, or Manicurist), the license and examination will cost between $110 and $125 (as of October 2010).  The license must be renewed every two years, by taking the exam again.  You can learn more about the exam at the California Department of Consumer Affairs – Board of Barbering and Cosmetology website.

View a list of cosmetology schools in California.