How to Become a Hairdresser
Have an eye for colour and great communication skills? Love styling your own hair and are always searching for new and exciting looks?
Kick off your career path in hairdressing for a rewarding and exciting workplace. Find out what it takes to succeed in this fun and rewarding career field.
What does a hairdresser do?
A career as a hairdresser means that you get to change people’s appearances – and consequently how they see themselves.
Like the beauty industry, it’s a brilliant career path for those who love building confidence in others, as well as flexing their creative muscles.
A hairdresser – or hair stylist – is someone involved in hair styling. But did you know that many hairdressers have speciality areas? For example, some are hair colour experts, some pride themselves on edgy cuts, some work exclusively on curly hair or have a reputation for their flawless hair.
Hairdressers also need to keep a close eye on the latest trends and styles so that they can give bespoke advice to customers on what look would work best for their client’s hair. You’ll need to know what’s what in braiding, bleaching, perming and hair products as well as how to do effective styling techniques.
Of course, there’s barbering, too, which can branch out into shaving, beard maintenance, and fades, which open up other career opportunities. Research shows that the amount of men who are clean shaven has dropped by 20% in the last five years. That translates to lots more men who will be visiting the barbers looking for someone to neaten up their facial hair.
One of the best things about a career in the hairdressing industry is that it gives you the ability to work flexibly, as this is a role you can take on in a full-time or part-time capacity.
In terms of career progression, there’s a fairly linear path upwards in salons from junior stylist to creative director. Once you’re a qualified hairdresser, there’s also the possibility of opening your own salon if you’re business-savvy and great at engaging with customers. Alternatively, take those senior stylist skills and work in the film or theatre industries.
What qualifications are needed to become a hairdresser?
Most hair salons will require a level 2 or 3 NVQ (national vocational qualification) or diploma in hairdressing when they’re employing someone.
If you’re wondering what GCSEs you’ll need to become a hairdresser, for a level 2 diploma, you’ll usually need two or more GCSEs (or equivalent qualification) in grades 9 to 3 (or A* to D, if you took them more than a couple of years ago!). The standard entry requirements are for a level 3, 4-5 GCSEs or equivalent in grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).
However, if you’re looking for apprenticeship options, you’re in luck. The entry-level Level 2 hair professional apprentice course, or a Level 3 advanced and creative hair professional apprenticeship course, can be completed while you work in a salon. Many employers are more than happy to support students as they learn.
Hairdressing apprenticeships can be completed in place of A levels, so if you’re not academically inclined and feel like a career in hairdressing is for you, then it’s a great option. Typically, intermediate courses require some GCSEs, including maths and English, while more advanced apprenticeships require 5+ GCSEs in grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).
Most hairdressing qualifications will go beyond instructing you in technical skills like shampooing and colour theory: they’ll teach you how to communicate with customers, deal with health and safety concerns, and in some cases, even impart valuable business skills.
You can take on a variety of hair and beauty courses in order to get the skills you need to step into this industry and become a hairdresser quickly.
Once you know the basics, the world is your oyster. You can take additional courses to specialise and grow your knowledge or learn from mentors along the way.
And if you’re thinking of branching out and opening your own salon, a course in business management could give you the confidence you need to make the leap.
How long does it take to become a hairdresser?
Because it’s a vocational industry, and so many people take hairdressing courses part-time while they either work elsewhere or do an apprenticeship, the length of time it takes to qualify can vary.
Usually, courses run for 12-18 months, though there are fast-track courses available that speed the process along. You’ll need to amass a wide range of hairdressing skills through work experience before you can become a senior hairdresser.
How much does a hairdresser earn?
Now you know how to become a hairdresser, you’ll be curious to know how much they earn. If you train as a hairdresser as an apprentice, you may start on lower salaries, with the apprentice minimum wage in the UK starting at £4.30 an hour for under 19s, rising to the standard minimum wage after the first year of your apprenticeship for those who are 19 and older.
According to the National Careers Service, the average hairdresser salary in the UK is around £14,000 a year for new starters, whilst experienced hairdressers can earn upwards of £30,000 a year.
Of course, many hairstylists make more than that average, thanks to the advent of social media, plenty of stylists are building their online portfolios and getting much more exposure – and can therefore charge higher prices, especially when working as a self-employed stylist.
Similarly, if you set up your own salon as a salon manager, you might well earn more. Learning the skills you need to set up your own business will allow you to maximise your earning potential in the long run. Starting a business of any kind can result in higher wages and can allow you to build a strong, sustainable career in this field.