How much can I make doing hair?

Beyonce in Cadillac Records. Wonder who did her hair in this one.
Beyonce's Cadillac Records hair

The new Beyoncé Cosmetology Center at Phoenix House—offering recovering addicts seven months of cosmetology training—sounds like so much fun it’s almost worth faking a Sudafed addiction to get in, especially since beautifying is a “lucrative” field, according to Beep Marty Markowitz. Really? How lucrative? We spoke with some borough stylists to find out.

It all starts with a NY State cosmetology license, which requires 1,000 hours of class time and $10,000 to $15,000 in tuition, on average, though government financial aid is available. Here’s what Brooklyn hair-care pros can expect to earn after that:

Salon assistant: washes hair, sweeps salon, holds foils, makes coffee, sets appointments
Training: cosmetology license
Pay: barely minimum-wage to $120 a day, mostly from tips

Junior stylist: similar to full-on stylist, but much less busy
Training: 1 to 3 years as a salon assistant
Pay: usually barely more than an assistant (dependent on clientele)

Hair stylist: cuts, colors, styles, does make-up
Training: a lifetime of branding and building a clientele
Pay: $800/week at Supercuts to $1,500-2,000 ($4,000 for the upper two percent)

Once a beauty school grad gets the required training, she must decide if she want to fight her way through a big, corporate salon or enter the gentler, much-less-profitable small-salon world. A teacher at a Brooklyn cosmetology school tells it like this:

“The hardest decision a lot of us are making when we graduate is whether to go to a large salon and be stuck as an assistant for a sure-fire 2+ years (making *no* money, but maybe make great money in the future), versus going to a smaller salon and getting a chair in a few months but not ever being able to charge those ‘big bucks’… A lot of people enter this industry thinking that you get out of school and roll into some $80K/a year gig wearing your Chuck Taylors to work every day and it’s just not the case. It’s been a big wake-up call.”

Outside the salon, stylists can double their income working for celebrities, film and photo shoots, weddings and even on cruise ships. Specialty jobs like this require much longer hours (and often travel), so it’s a viable option only for the young, single or adventurous.

Colorists see more commission from higher-priced color treatments, but the treatments also take longer, so that means fewer in a day or week. And, as one stylist t at a luxurious spa salon in southern Brooklyn tells us, borough stylists can’t rely on a specialty (like coloring) the way their high-clientele Manhattan counterparts can. “In Brooklyn, you need to do everything in order to survive.”

Veteran stylists say the generalist renaissance-stylist has been in a recent decline, as more schools emphasize a single skill-set. No matter what one’s specialty—a killer shag or a one-stop shop, a beautician’s survival requires hustle. “Your ability to retire depends on your ability to market yourself,” says one of our stylists. Here’s a resource for beauty schools in the area.

A stylist’s career is built around a brand and client base, so cosmetologists


  1. Good article- while the cosmetology is an excellent field to enter (flexible schedules, great income potential, creativity) its not the cakewalk I think a lot of people envision. Thanks for mentioning the truth about this industry and also the truth about how much assistants get paid… every $5 you can throw your shampoo girl helps! A lot of salons pay assistants day-rates of $50-$60 for a full 9-10 hour day so they’re relying on your tips to pay the rent! I will say, though…if you have a passion for the industry you should follow your dream as I have- leaving corporate life has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, regardless of now eating a whole lot of ramen ;)

  2. Joanna

    I am a cosmetology who is graduating soon and torn between going to a high up salon where I’ll be an assistant for at least a year and going to a small salon where I will be given a chair after a couple of months. I have always had a passion for doing hair and am excited to start my career even though the beginning is hard and you basically do all the work for what seems to be no pay. However, after those obstacles are overcome, it all pays off :)

  3. Minnesota

    pay is crap. been doing hair for almost a year at a franchise store in the mall and the hours suck, tips suck, no holiday/sick time or pay, work most holidays -even new years day, hours suck, once again , and the pay is CRAP! i loved the idea of going into the hair industry but all i got is bad aniexty and crappy complaints from people who wanted a free hair cut-and i am not even bad at doing hair! i just don’t care about these people because they don’t tip. sorry but i wish i would have spent my $14k elsewhere because these large coroporations are stealing from US!

    • I have been doing hair for twenty years the only way to make money is to be the owner . if you are not the owner you are a slave to greedy pigs. better to work at a hotdog stand !

    • Melanie M Langer

      I agree. I worked for a franchise for 8 years and made them so much money and madee nothing. Im on my own now, renting a station, work 3 days a week sometime 30 hours a in month and making 3000 to 4000. I have to discipline myself though and budget for my expenses. When you do that youll never have to worry. Just keep trying . I love doing hair..

  4. I have been a hair designer for four years, and absolutely love it! You can make as little or as much as you want the key is PERSONALITY AND SALES! I went from a stylist, to a school educator to a salon and hair distributor owner! I make over six figures a year, it is possible to make serious money in this industry if you try hard, I can teach a stylist how to do hair I can’t teach them a personality. If you know how to sell products and yourself you’ll be great and always network with everyone!

  5. nani bryant

    im 12 years old and i really wanna be a hair dresser plz email me i wanna get into research soon 800$ a week i can support my family real good ……hmmmm i can see it now NANI’S HIAR HEAVEN aha sounds like a plan

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