Hairstylists need to get some experience working with customers in a salon before they can advance to independent or top-paying jobs. The typical way to get this experience is to work as an assistant. As an assistant hairstylist, you work under the supervision of licensed stylists or salon owners. An assistant hairstylist job thus is an entry-level position. For this reason, stylists working as assistants typically earned under $30,000 annually as of May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some assistant hairstylists are not yet licensed. These people typically work in salons as they work toward certification or to build their resume. These assistant stylists, because they do not have licenses required by the states in which they work, cannot perform tasks full stylists perform, such as dying or cutting hair. However, they usually help the stylist by completing basic tasks like shampoos, so the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts them into the "shampooers" group. In this capacity, assistants also may greet clients, schedule appointments, answer client questions in person or via phone or email, sell salon products, handle inventory and tidy the salon. Other assistants are licensed cosmetologists but take assistant positions because they lack the experience to get hired as full stylists. The bureau categorizes these assistants with other hairstylists because their education, licensure and job duties are so similar.
Assistant hairstylists who are not licensed and who therefore fall under the shampooer category with the bureau averaged $19,140 per year as of May 2010. This works out to $9.20 per hour. The rate represents an increase of 1.2 percent from 2009 to 2010. The bureau indicates that all hairstylists averaged $26,510 annually, or $12.74 hourly, an increase of 0.7 percent. Assistant hairstylists with one or more licenses in areas of cosmetology usually make less than the average for the entire industry, but the exact difference between assistant and full stylist pay depends on the salon and isn't standardized.
According to the bureau, assistant hairstylists who fell into the shampooer category earned $15,800 annually, the same as $7.60 hourly, in the 10th percentile as of May 2010. In the 90th percentile, shampooers earned $24,380 per year, or $11.72 per hour. Assistants who held a license and therefore could be classed with other hairstylists earned $16,350 per year, or $7.86 hourly, in the 10th percentile. In the 25th percentile, pay was $18,320 yearly, or $8.81 per hour. The median was $22,760 per year, or $10.94 hourly. Assistant hairdressers who are licensed usually do not reach higher percentiles because full hairdressers can take the higher-paying jobs, but the bureau indicates that hairdressers can earn up to $41,540 per year, or $19.97 per hour. In a salon that pays full hairdressers these kinds of rates, licensed assistants may make rates closer to the upper end of the salary range.
The bureau has limited data on pay by geographical location for assistant hairdressers classified as shampooers, as only 25 out of all states and territories provided salary data for this segment of the personal appearance industry as of May 2010. However, the data the bureau does have indicates that the best pay, $25,140 per year, was in Massachusetts. The lowest rate, $17,430, was in Indiana. For assistants in the hairstylist category, the best-paying area was the District of Columbia, where hairstylists earned an average of $37,680 per year. The lowest pay, $20,080, was in West Virginia.
Even though assistant stylists may not be able to perform all the work a full stylist does, they still sometimes earn tips and commissions. For instance, Tree.com states that a typical shampooer earned $3 to $5 in tips per client and that having one or two clients per hour was typical in 2011. Additionally, although the vast majority of stylists work in the personal care industry, assistant stylists also can work for other lesser-explored employers such as physicians offices, mortuaries or nursing homes. These employers often pay better salaries because they need to attract the stylists to the industry. Stylists in death-care services, for example, earned $32,360 per year on average as of May 2010, according to the BLS. This is almost $6,000 better than the overall industry average.