Barber vs Cosmetologist – What Is the Difference?

The barber and the cosmetologist are both professionals that work with hair, but they have different roles.

Here are ways to distinguish the difference between the two, according to experts.

Dawn Clemens

Dawn Clemens

Founder & CEO, LarweHair

The actual difference between the two begins with how they’re trained and educated

While both the barber and a cosmetologist showcase their tricks and expertise on your hair, there’s a little difference in the services they can provide because of the licenses they have.

The actual difference between the two begins with how they’re trained and educated. To become a barber or a cosmetologist, you’ll have to take admission into a college or school specialized in teaching these skilled courses. You’ll graduate with either a college certificate or an associate degree. The major difference between the training and education of a barber and a cosmetologist is the courses they study.

The courses or program to become a cosmetologist is longer than the one required to become a barber. This is because the cosmetology courses cover more concepts, which makes them more detailed than the courses taught to aspiring barbers.

A cosmetologist has the license to do:

  • Haircuts
  • Provide facial services
  • Waxing
  • Pedicure and manicure

They can’t shave your beard because they don’t have the expertise and the license for this service, but they can apply makeup to your face. While both use scissors, a cosmetologist can’t use a razor to shave your beard, and a barber can’t wax your hair and give you manicures and pedicures.

On the other hand, a barber has the license to provide all types of hair-related services, including:

  • Haircut
  • Shaving
  • Coloring

However, they can’t wax your hair. A barber can’t give you a manicure and pedicure either. As the job they perform differs, the tools they use are also different.

One big difference between the two is that a barber can only provide services to men, while a cosmetologist can provide services to both men and women.

Martin Gugliotti

Martin Gugliotti

Licensed CT Barber and Cosmetologist | Dean of Students, International Institute of Cosmetology

Barbers vs. Cosmetologist depends primarily on each individual State’s education requirement

Historically, the difference between Cosmetologists and Barbers was based on the sex of the customer. Barbers specialized in male haircuts and shaves, where Cosmetologists would specialize in female hair and beauty needs. However, nowadays, this distinction doesn’t apply.

The difference between the two are more subtle and vary from state to state and depend on the training that the state mandates for each profession.

Differences within states

Think of it this way; males get colors and perms and such that historically were “female” services and females get short fades that were historically a “male” service.

In most states, if not all, there is no distinction of sex in either cosmetologist or barber definition. The difference becomes more clear in the areas of study for each. For example, in many states, Barbers receive training in similar areas of study as cosmetologists but less number of total hours.

In CT, to get a barber’s license, the state requires 1000 hours of training, and a Cosmetologist license requires 1500 hours. This means that although Barbers may get an education in hair color, that may not be a focus of the training. Also, in many states, cosmetologists are not taught straight razor shaving. In these cases, that may be the only difference.

In summary, it is safe to say that the difference between Barbers and Cosmetologist depends primarily on each individual State’s education requirement. But it is important to note that a Barber or Cosmetologist is only as good as the education and experience they have acquired in the particular service.

Fun historical fact: In the olden days, Barbers would perform minor foot and dental surgeries. Giving a new meaning to the expression “one-stop shop.”

Gabrielle White

Gabrielle White

Master Cosmetologist | Creative Director, DashStylists

Barbers cut hair while a cosmetologist can do a number of things

If you look up the definition of the two:

  • Barber – A person who cuts hair, especially men’s, and shaves or trims beards as an occupation.
  • Cosmetologist – A person licensed to provide cosmetic treatments to the hair, skin, and nails.

So those are pretty straightforward explanations that give some explanation of both.

The main difference is that Barbers cut hair while a cosmetologist can do a number of things, including all hair services, as well as hair and nails. Cosmetologists have learned in school how to apply false nails and manicures. They have to be able to apply makeup to a certain degree as well as perform skin care services like facials.

Traditionally, a barber will offer more versatile and useful services for men, such as haircuts, hair styling, shaving, beard trimming and styling, and much more. Barbers typically work with men’s hair only but occasionally provide women with short haircuts as well.

Cosmetologists can work with men and women, but another big difference is that cosmetologists can shave men’s faces. Barbers are trained to shave a man’s face, and this can be an incredibly difficult process with a great deal of time spent in training, learning how to use a straight razor for traditional shaving, and learning how to use a modern razor for regular shaving.

This skill isn’t taught in cosmetology school.

Though these two professions are very different, they are also quite similar. The main goal of both is to get people looking and feeling their best.

LaCresia Simpson

LaCresia Simpson

CEO, Cresi Hair LLC

Licensing difference

Obtaining a barbering license is not as extensive as a cosmetology license. A barber must complete a state-approved training program, usually within six months, mainly focusing on hair trimming/styling and facial hair.

For cosmetology licensing, the program is broader and more complex which can take up to two years to complete. The training program will include hair styling, facials, pedicures, manicures, and other beauty treatments.

Skills difference

Barbering techniques consist of cutting or shaping short hair with electric trimmers and grooming facial hair using a shaver or razor.

Cosmetologists have unique haircutting skills using shears as their main tool. Cosmetologists are not limited to just hair cutting or styling but provide other services, which include hair coloring, scalp treatments, and nail services.

Clientele difference

A barbers clientele is predominately men and boys, while a cosmetologist clientele will consist of men, women, and children.

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