Cosmetology Licensing Requirements

Gaining a cosmetology license is what allows you to officially practice as a cosmetologist in a spa, barber shop, or salon. Once a student has graduated from a beauty school program and completed the required number of training hours, they must sit for and pass their state board exams for cosmetology licensure. If you are looking to become a cosmetologist, everyone from barbers to estheticians and beyond must hold a valid license (the exception being shampooers). Exact requirements and licensure rules will vary from state to state, so it's very important to brush up on your state's licensure regulations and exam information.

Cosmetology Licensure Exam Prerequisites

While these fluctuate depending on what state you are located in, the following prerequisites will generally need to be met in order to be eligible to take the state board exam:

  • Graduate of an accredited, licensed cosmetology school
  • Completion of a minimum number of training hours

What is the Cosmetology Licensure Exam Like?

Whether you are going for a cosmetology, esthetician, barber, manicurist, or electrology license, you will be required to complete the two-part licensure exam. Exact examination details will depend on your state, but most consist of:

  • Written Portion - generally multiple-choice, covering styling techniques, rules and regulations, safety, and more. Depending on what type of license you are trying to obtain (cosmetology, barber, esthetician, etc.), this exam can take anywhere from 50 to 120 minutes to complete.
  • Practical Portion - this is the hands-on portion of the exam where students are required to demonstrate skills in front of an evaluator. Students may be required to bring their own tools and supplies to this exam, including a mannequin head or model to demonstrate technique on. This portion of the licensure exam can take 4-6 hours to complete.

Exams can be re-taken if the student does not pass them on the first try.

Cosmetology Licensure Renewal and Reciprocity

License expiration dates are printed on cosmetology licenses, and generally must be renewed every other year. Cosmetologists must pay the license renewal fee in order to renew. If a cosmetology license has been expired for more than 5 years, you may be required to take refresher courses or re-take the state board exams (check your state for more details).

You may be required to take additional courses or state board exams if you are licensed in one state but wish to practice in another state. Some states, however, have reciprocity, meaning that cosmetologists are not required to re-take licensure exams as long as they hold an active cosmetology license.

Find information on cosmetology licensing requirements for each state below. Projected hours and requirements are subject to change.