About the History of Cosmetology


Men and women have used cosmetic products for many centuries. Though styles are continually changing, the practice of applying or utilizing such products had become a part of everyday life. Media and the advertising business had contributed to the burgeoning growth of the many aspects involved in its use and application. Cosmetics had always been associated with women, but men too, had been great consumers of perfume, powder, and oils. Cosmetics today are used from head to toe and by people of all ages.

The demand and attention for looks-enhancement has fed a growing cosmetic industry which contains several major companies that operates internationally. Similarly, a structured field for the growing interest on creating a good or impressive outward appearance is its proper and skillful application, now part of the scope of cosmetology, and which has now opened greater opportunities for a variety of practices today.

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There are various fields of discipline in cosmetology that specifically attend to the various needs of the consumers and clients. Such needs include dealing with the skin and nails. This also involves the different cutting or treatment of the hair. Common treatments employed are manicures and pedicures for the nails. As for the hair, various hairstyles are available to choose from, with the professional aid and counsel of the hairstylists that would best fit the customer (JB Wilkinson et al. Modern Cosmeticology).

The scope of cosmetology today has enlarged and now includes hair removal in different parts of the body or doing facials. Aside from hairstyling and shampooing, other hair treatments that are in great demand today are the application of hair relaxers or straighteners if the client desires to have straight hair. On the other hand, permanent waves are given if a client decides to wear curls or waves on his or her hair.

The application of different colors or highlighting of the hair, and adding length through hair extensions are some areas of cosmetology that requires skills that must be learned and specialized. Those who have followed the learning of such skills and discipline, and have obtained a license to practice such skills are called cosmetologists. However, they are more often referred to as beauticians, hairstylists or beauty specialists (“Cosmetics”).

Brief History

Though the field of cosmetology as a profession has just evolved recently, the practice has been used even in ancient days. The early use of cosmetics and hair designs are usually connected to Royalty and such it is not far removed that hairdressers and other beauticians have already been employed by the nobilities. Spas are very popular nowadays; it has existed since the days of early Egyptians, Romans and Greeks, who were famous for their public baths using essential oils.

Evidence of the use of eye makeup and aromatic ointments has been found in Egyptian tombs dating to 3500 B.C. Perfumes of natural origin were greatly prized and hence associated with priestly functions. Oils were used in bathing, possibly because of the drying Mediterranean climate, and this practice was evidently widespread in ancient Greece.

By the 1st century AD the Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Middle Eastern cultures had developed cosmetics such as powders to whiten the skin; kohl to darken the eyelids, eyelashes, and eyebrows; rouge for the cheeks; and abrasive products to clean the teeth. Similar cosmetics were used throughout the centuries, developing on lines not very different from those employed today. Cosmetics for the face, dyes for the hair, perfumes for adornment, and environmental health and bath aids were all common in Western Europe from the 13th century on.

Even less developed civilizations also applied the cosmetic art; facial decoration has been associated with both magic and war in cultures as far removed geographically as that of the North American Indian and the indigenous African. The African continent, particularly, developed the art of hair-styling, and the East contributed much to perfumery. Today, significant technical developments that form the basis of the modern cosmetics industry and related professions have made use of innovations to cater to the desires of its clients (Cosmetics: Science and Technology).

What is amazing is the fact that those who practice in the field of cosmetology at all ages have all found employment. Even difficult times such as the “Great Depression” in the US did not daunt the clients from calling hair services. The hardest places, like Afghanistan, could not be deprived of such services. Beauty salons are already out in the open, but have been practiced secretly even during the Taliban regime. An Afghan hairstylist can earn more than a physician (“About the History of Cosmetology”).

Different Fields of Specialization

The practice of cosmetology nowadays embraces a wide scope; therefore there is a growing trend to specialize in specific areas to be able to fully satisfy customers. At present, a person interested in pursuing a career in this field, has a variety of specialized areas to choose from. Although there is great promise for practicing in this field, it is highly competitive and thus, furthering the need to focus one’s skill. Most cosmetologists have concentrated in more than one area of specialization in order to have a better edge.


A hair stylist is a cosmetologist who is a professional in styling the hair. He or she is considered an expert in the practice of cutting and fixing the hair. Whether elaborate or simple, the custom of hairstyling has been used by nearly all society (“Hairdressing”). This practice includes giving the appropriate hair cut, proper application of perms such as curls or relaxers, treatment of hair color and highlighting. This could also involve shampooing the hair. Other skills that a hair stylist is able to perform are the application of hair extenders, wigs and other hair pieces which some people require. Permanent waving or the altering of the shape of the hair can be done through the use of chemicals or under the influence of heat. It is common that most straight-haired people desire to have a wave while others with tightly curled hair want the tightness released to make the hair more controllable.

In utilizing hair colorants, hair stylists use such products to add “life” to dull or mousy-colored hair or to cover gray/white hair. Hair dyes were once harsh and drastic and their use confined to theatrical performers and others whose professions required youthful hair color. Today, clients can ask their hair stylist to use either permanent coloring, remaining until it grows out, and semipermanent color which are removable after a small number of shampoos. Hair stylists can also give their clients a new appearance by working on different types of fake hair of different lengths and colors. Maintenance or other treatment of fake hairs also requires the skillful attention of a professional hair stylist.

Shampoo Technician – is responsible for shampooing and conditioning the customer’s hair. This is done not only to clean the hair and scalp but also to achieve a fuller, balanced hair finish. Shampoo technicians work under salons, functioning as a sub-category of the hair stylist.



The practice involves beautification or the improvement of outward physical appearance. Estheticians execute treatments specifically for the skin such as facials, hair removal in different parts of the body, as well as performing body massage. Facials could include cleansing, exfoliation for fairer complexion, moisturizing, and application of body wraps.

In hair removal, estheticians make use of depilatories particularly from the legs and underarms. Removal of underarm hair also permits more effective use of antiperspirant deodorants. The depilatory action allows the weakening of the hair so that it can be removed at skin level with minimal effort. Other methods of depilation include application of waxes that set around the hair, pulling the hairs out of the follicle when the wax is pulled off; and shaving.

Through different methods, estheticians enhance the client’s looks by aiding better circulation, skin nourishment, improve skin tautness, remove unwanted toxins and thus could help lose some extra weight off the body (“Esthetician”). A number of estheticians work alongside with dermatologists.


Compared to estheticians who employ hair removal through waxing, electrologist removes unwanted hair with the aid of an electrolysis machine. Whereas the former is temporary, electrolysis is lasting. A good electrologist practices good hygienic procedures such as using sterilized instruments, employ needle-electrolysis instead of expensive laser treatments. It is good to note that only needle-type electrolysis is the only procedure for hair removal that is approved by the FDA to claim permanent results. Proper training is needed in running this application. If done by a skilled professional, the client should not feel the insertion on the skin, but only the current. A properly done procedure does not allow the client to feel any pain of hair being plucked out. After the procedure is carried out, an electrologist informs the client on how to properly care for his or her skin in order to avoid problems of skin irritation or inflammation (“Choosing an Electrologist”).


A manicurist supply services both for men and women with the purpose of improving the looks or beautifying the hands and feet. Manicure usually refers to enhancing the looks of the hands through filing, shaping of nails, and the application of nail polish. The use of nail lacquer is primarily used to enhance appearance; however, it also provides protection of the nails. Nail polish is basically a solution of nitrocellulose lacquer, with a plasticizer to make it spread, and appropriate coloring matter. Other products used are removers made from such solvents as acetone and ethyl acetate.

Pedicures on the other hand, are the treatment to improve the appearance of the feet and nails. Taken from its Latin derivative, pes (foot) and cura (care), pedicure literally means “foot care”. Aside from beauty enhancement, it is also beneficial in protecting the nails from diseases and nail disorders. Other skills include proper technique in massaging the hands, feet, as well as knowing the proper application of nail extensions. Practice requires passing the exam from the State Board of Cosmetology in order to become a licensed nail technician (“Nail Technician”).

Average Earnings of a Cosmetologist

A latest survey commissioned by the National Accrediting Commission of cosmetology arts and Sciences (NACCAS) has found that on the average, those practicing in salons or its chains earn as much as $30,000 to $50,000 annually. Such figures show that the demand is truly great and job opportunities in cosmetology are really promising.

Sources of payment or income can come in different ways:

  1. Commission – for every services rendered to a customer, a cosmetologist is usually paid through a percentage already agreed between the salon management and the cosmetologist. Though it would seem they are salon employees, they are mostly considered self-employed and as such, responsible for paying their tax responsibilities. In such arrangements, it is often the responsibility of the salon to pay the overhead expenses.
  2. Hourly wage – cosmetologists are paid on a fixed amount in a per hour basis regardless of the number of customers served. This is the system now usually employed by salon chain companies since it is easier for control purposes and presents a more uniform image, that the salon company desires to project to the public consumer. Some employees receive bonuses from their salon employers. Entry-level salary is usually low but can improve considerably over time and experience.
  3. Booth rental – a cosmetologist earns a monthly fee through rental payments. The earning comes through availing a space for the salon services. The cosmetologist is considered self-employed. In this arrangement, the cosmetologist is responsible for providing the products that will be utilized in the salon.
  4. Tips – an added source of income, which is usually unaccounted. Satisfied customers frequently offer a generous amount, on top of the required payment for the service given. It is often in this manner that cosmetologist are able to earn substantial amount in their profession.

Self-employed professional may have the possibility of unlimited income, but those who work in an hourly basis can also enjoy medical benefits or paid vacation leaves that the former could not avail.

Trainings and Requirements of the Profession

Those wanting to practice as personal appearance workers are required by all States to pass a licensure exam, with the exception of shampooers. What vary instead from state to state are the conditions set in order to qualify to practice the profession. However, it is usually required that the person be not less than 16 years old and must be a graduate of a cosmetology course in an accredited school.

In some few states, certain number of years of apprenticeship can serve in place of a diploma obtained from graduating in a formal education in school. Licensing exam involves both written test and skill demonstration to show sufficient knowledge and ability to carry out hair styling or cosmetology services. Other States even include oral examination wherein the examinee is required to explain the process involved in their practical test.

In some isolated cases, certain States have an agreement which allows licensed cosmetologists and hair stylists to practice their profession outside the state from which they have obtained their license. However, most require cosmetologists to undergo training program and pass the licensure exam for that particular State before he or she could legally practice in the State.

Full time training in cosmetology could entail 9 months or as much as 24 months. Vocational schools either offer daytime or evening programs. Less amount of time is given in training for nail care such as manicurists, skin care, and electrologists. Although few cosmetologists learn the profession through apprenticeship, such means of training could take 1 to 3 years. Shampooers can learn their skill through classroom lecture, demonstrations, and real-life or simulated application. Those involving hair styling and treatment are taught through classroom instructions and hands-on training in cutting, styling, color application, and various styles of hair removal are done in school “clinics” under close supervision of instructors.

The training program also include educating the students concerning proper care and sanitation of instruments, hygienic practices, chemistry, and distinguishing skin problems that can simply be treated within the scope of the profession from skin ailments that should only be treated by a physician. Other helpful skills that can greatly aid the cosmetologist in the profession are communication and selling skills, as well as basic business principles.

For professional growth enhancement and to maintain competitive edge, well-seasoned barbers and cosmetologists continue to attend advance courses in their field of specialization in order to keep abreast of the changing trends and techniques, of new products and technologies. Selling skills are becoming in demand as the sales of cosmetic products are also fast becoming a good source of added income for salon owners and workers.

Aside from knowing to apply the basic skills, it is also important that those servicing on personal appearance should also possess a good understanding of art, fashion, and technical design. “People skills’ is an essential part in securing success in this profession. For those who are preparing to run their own salons or their own line of cosmetic products, business acumen is needed.

Career Outlook

Future opportunities are projected to be considerably good. Growth in demand for such services can be due to sheer rise in population and increased financial capabilities of clientele. Opportunities are likely to enlarge, not decrease, as new technologies are developed; therefore, more areas are opened for practitioners of the field to work on. Whereas appearance enhancements were formerly limited as women’s concern and preoccupation, a growing number of clientele comes from the male population. The ages too are going lower and lower for consumers to be served (“Barbers, Cosmetologists, and Other Personal Appearance Workers”).


  1. Wilkinson, JB et al. Modern Cosmetology. 1962
  2. “Cosmetics”. The New Book of Knowledge. Vol. 3. 1981
  3. Cosmetics: Science and Technology. Vol.2. 1972
  4.  “About the History of Cosmetology”. http://www.finallywhatyouneed.com/history.html
  5. “Hairdressing”. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9038819/hairdressing
  6. “Esthetician”. http://www.holisticjunction.com/categories/esthetician.html
  7. “Choosing an Electrologist”. http://www.4electrolysis.com/competent.php
  8.  “Nail Technician”. http://www.francistuttle.com/programs/pigs/36.pdf
  9. “Barbers, Cosmetologists, and Other Personal Appearance Workers”. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos169.htm#outlook

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About the History of Cosmetology. (2016, Aug 15). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/about-the-history-of-cosmetology/