Definition of Cosmetology


Cosmetology is all about beauty. There are different aspects of cosmetology, including hair styling, makeup and skin care. With each new development in these areas, the legal definition of cosmetology changes to keep up with new discoveries. Explore the general and legal definitions of cosmetology along with professional requirements.

Definition and Etymology

  • Cosmetology is the study of cosmetics and their uses. The root word of cosmetology is "cosmetic," which is Greek in origin. Cosmetic comes from two Greek words, "kosmetikos," meaning skilled in adornment, and "kosmein," meaning to arrange, adorn.


  • Cosmetology dates back to ancient Egypt, with today's equivalent of makeup artists and wig stylists producing the look of darkly lined eyes and hair styles many associate with the ancient civilization. Earlier civilizations used cosmetics on nobility and the wealthy to indicate status. Cosmetologists in these ancient civilizations were servants or slaves who mixed together the cosmetics and applied them to their masters. In today's society, cosmetics are available to everyone, regardless of wealth or social status. Cosmetology has developed into a career that requires educational experience and certification to legally practice it in the United States.

Legal Definition

  • The condensed version of the legal definition of cosmetology: Cosmetology involves the practices of caring for the hair, skin and nails by any means, whether chemical, mechanical or by hand on a person, whether deceased or living. The complete legal definition provides specific details on the preparations and who can legally perform these preparations. Since cosmetology is a recognized public-service profession, there are rules associated with who can perform cosmetic services.


  • A person who decides to make a career of cosmetology typically must be licensed. In order to be licensed, a person must have successfully completed at least the 10th grade with a diploma. In addition, she must have completed between 1,200 and 1,700 credit hours and training in cosmetology courses and work, or have completed 3,000 hours in an apprenticeship at a salon over a period of no more than three years. Each state regulates licensing for cosmetology and may have additional requirements that need to be met, depending on the cosmetic services rendered.

Braiding Controversy

  • Most states consider hair braiding a cosmetic service. Many have argued that this should not be considered a cosmetic service because it is deeply rooted in African culture, considered an art form, and no chemical preparation or mechanical devices are needed to perform the service. For those who only braid hair, the debate has centered on whether an individual should be required to attend school for cosmetology when many curricula do not teach hair braiding. Lawsuits in a few states, such as California, have resulted in the removal of the licensing requirement for braiding.


  • Cosmetology is a profession that helps others look and feel better. Each new beauty trend that emerges may be considered a cosmetic service by your state. If you are considering providing a service for pay or are considering a career in cosmetology, contact your state's licensing board to find out more information about the requirements you must meet to further your career or perform the service.

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