The Difference Between Barbers, Stylists & Cosmetologists: Becoming an expert salon professional

Thinking about getting a fresh look or a fresh new beauty career? Where do you start and who do you choose for the services you are looking for? Narrow down your dreams from vague to reality with the facts of becoming a licensed beauty professional.

It’s important to know the differences in professionals who render beauty services, especially if you are looking to become a student. You may want to pursue a career of becoming a one-stop beauty shop. But, there are also opportunities to specialize in a few services only. Learning more about each career title can inspire your educational track and help you choose what kind of expert you want to be.

First, let’s discuss barbers, stylists and cosmetologists individually. We’ll break down the practical differences of each one of these professions. Ultimately, there are two licenses to get employed: a barber license or a cosmetology license. Contrary to popular belief, barber licenses don’t restrict you to just men’s services. We’ll discuss how long and what it takes to become each one.

The Breakdown of Roles

The Barber

When you think of a barber, immediately a pole with a swirling helix of colors comes to mind. This universal symbol signifies a shop full of jolly socializing men getting the royal treatment from head to beard.

It’s true. Classically, a barber provides an elevated experience for men of all hair types. Many barbering schools will be laser focused on men’s haircuts, facial hair grooming and even cover classic techniques of using a straight blade. Barbers are also trained in physiology, sanitation, color, waving techniques and facials. Here’s the catch! It’s the 21st century and now barbers and barbering schools provide hair and grooming services to men AND women. This leads us to-

The Stylist

While barbers have historically taken the position of men’s services, there are many barbers who are also trained in women’s hair. Most if not all schools and programs now offer barber AND stylist training.

A stylist, also known as hairdresser, can cut, color, and style for men AND women.

When looking for a barber program, see if they offer stylist training for both men and women, so not to limit your skills to one gender. You will learn how to color and texture many different hair types and lengths.

The word ‘stylist’ or ‘hairdresser’ can get a bit confusing as they are sometimes used synonymously with a barber OR a cosmetologist.

It used to be two options only. Either you are a licensed barber and ONLY work with men’s hair or you are a cosmetologist who is a jack-of-all-trades and are not restricted by gender.

Dive deeper into the barbershop or barber school you are looking at and you’ll find that they, of course, also teach cutting and styling for women! Salons employ licensed cosmetologists but also have licensed barbers/stylists on staff too. Ask questions to every business to find out exactly what they offer.

What you can and cannot do with a barber/stylist license:


  • Provide shampoo services
  • Apply tonics and conditioners to hair
  • Apply salon grade coloring products to hair


  • Wax and provide nail or eyebrow services
  • (A licensed restricted barber) cannot provide any chemical services or extractions

Note: Cosmetologists cannot provide straight blade shaves

The Cosmetologist

A cosmetologist is licensed not only in hair. Depending on the program of study, cosmetology can and usually includes training in makeup, body and facial skin treatments and wraps, removal of unwanted hair, shaping eyebrows, and even styling wigs and lacing hair extensions. Most programs also offer the option of nail technician training.

How long is this going to take?

Which one of these career tracks suit you? Well, the barber and stylist program is certainly the most straightforward route to getting behind a salon chair. They are laser focused on hair grooming and styling. If you have a busy schedule already, it is easier to focus your energy on perfecting these preliminary techniques. If you are a beginner to the beauty industry, it can be a great first goal to see where you are comfortable. Maybe you’ll find that a barber’s license is your true calling. You might build a reputation in being the expert in beards, waving, or highlights, for example.

Can you be both a licensed barber AND a cosmetologist? Yes!

Oddly, each of these programs have the same minimum hourly requirements. The cosmetology program is a comprehensive program rather than a specialty program. In Florida, to attain either license, you must complete a minimum of 1200 hours at either a Florida School of Cosmetology or a Florida School for Barbering. Some programs are longer than the state requirements, especially in cosmetology where a student may need or want to spend extra time on a particular service. Schools are flexible to students’ needs. The state minimum requirement, however, remains the same.

Upon finishing the required hours of training, a candidate will apply to the appropriate board to take a licensure exam. Both licenses require a written exam, although on different subjects. The exam is held at a Pearson VUE location. Most schools include the fees to state exams in their tuition fees.

Cut to the Chase

As cosmetology goes, if you are confident that you want to be a well rounded beauty professional or if you want to open an all-inclusive business, then this program is for you.

A barber license, however, can be an inspiring stepping stone to deciding if either specializing or a comprehensive program is right for you. We know now that both take about the same time so your next step might be to gather cost, commute and schedule information.

Knowing what each salon professional title means in the modern beauty world is important for distinguishing what services they perform. Now that you understand the basic differences between a barber license and cosmetology license, you are one step closer to choosing the right career path for you.

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