The Differences Between Barbering and Cosmetology: Which to Choose?

If you are interested in barbering and cosmetology, you may be wondering how the two professions differ from one another. After all, from the consumer standpoint, it may all look the same. While barbering and cosmetology do share some common traits, the direction of your career can hinge on the differences.

A Word Concerning Gender

Traditionally, barbers were men and cosmetologists, also known as hairdressers, were women. Each gender would be seen by the specialist of their own gender. These sex roles are no longer recognized in many areas of the country, and you are now free to choose either specialty regardless of your own gender. Do not choose a career based on outmoded gender expectations.

The Role of a Barber

A barber primarily has a male clientele, but he or she may also see women who prefer to wear their hair in short cuts. A barber is skilled in trimming nose and ear hair, shaving facial hair and cutting hair short near the scalp. In African-American communities, a barber may also know how to braid, cornrow or dread-lock hair. Some states have laws concerning the handling of a razor and only barbers are licensed to shave clients.

The Role of a Cosmetologist

A cosmetologist will see both males and females and is trained to cut, color, perm and style hairs of all types and lengths. Cosmetologists also learn about skincare, make-up, nail technology, facials, waxing and other aesthetic procedures. Cosmetologists can also specialize in African-American hairstyling. Licensed cosmetologists may decide to focus on any of these sub-specialties, taking positions in nail art boutiques, hair salons and spas.

Choosing the Right Path

If you aren’t quite sure which career is best for you, consider whether you are more comfortable working with male or female clients. Barbers primarily deal with men, while cosmetologists have clients of both genders. Also consider how comfortable you would be doing pedicures or waxing private areas for clients. If you want to focus solely on hair, becoming a barber may be the right choice. If you want a wide variety of training in all aesthetic pursuits, cosmetology may be a better fit.

Educational Requirements

In most states, the education requirements for both cosmetologists and barbers are similar. Some states, such as New Jersey, do not even offer the option of receiving a license to be a barber and instead force all students to become licensed cosmetologists. This decision, however, has been challenged because men who wish to become barbers may not necessarily be interested in doing nails or performing Brazilian wax jobs. Know the laws in the state you will be practicing your craft before making a decision.

If your state offers both types of licenses, the course to complete either is about nine months long. Of course, the length of time may be longer or shorter, depending on how long the days are at school. Some programs are geared toward working adults and only hold class in the evenings or weekends, while others are traditional nine to five, Monday through Friday schools.

Barbering and cosmetology are both exciting fields with many differences and similarities. If you are interested in either field, your next step could be shadowing a professional in your area or contacting a local school to get started.