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Careers in Barbering

Barbering is experiencing a renaissance as more men turn to professionals for a refined appearance that conveys a masculine sense of style. Take the first step toward a career in the tonsorial arts by finding out how to earn a barber’s license in your state.

How to Become a Barber

Neighborhood barbershops are, once again, gaining in popularity as men of all ages realize that there’s simply no substitute for a great cut from a great barber. Add a hot towel treatment followed by the closest shave of their lives, some great conversation, and a super cool, relaxing atmosphere, and men are flocking to barber shops faster than ever. Once austere, today’s barbershops are a gentlemen’s oasis more likely to feature walnut counters, brass rails, and walls adorned with retro artifacts than a barber’s pole.

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Barbering may be the ideal career for someone who is interested in a profession in the personal care service industry and who has a knack for masculine style.

Exploring a Career in Barbering First Hand

Although women barbers do certainly exist, the barbering industry is still one dominated by men, and the majority of today’s barbers no doubt were inspired to explore this profession because of their own sense of style coupled with fond memories of visiting their local barber.

For those considering this career, a trip (or three) to the barber is most definitely in order. Taking in the atmosphere, the clientele, and the work of the barber is one of the best ways to become familiar with how a barber’s day is spent.

A barber is a professional who specializes in cutting and styling men’s hair and caring for men’s facial hair, skin, and scalps. Barbers, of course, are primarily employed in barbershops, although a number of high-end hotels and spas now employ barbers full-time to serve traveling businessmen.

To be a successful barber, individuals should be friendly and outgoing, and they should enjoy meeting new people and spending the better part of their day socializing with the clients they serve. Those interested in barbering should be prepared to spend the majority of the day on their feet and working with their hands.

Barbers usually enjoy flexible schedules, relaxed working environments, and a solid income once they establish a regular clientele.

Getting The Necessary Education and Training

A comprehensive education in barbering is usually the first step to earning the state license required to become a barber. To achieve state licensure, most state boards of cosmetology and barbering require the completion of an approved education program or an apprenticeship, and in some states, both.

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Among all state boards, the requirements to become licensed are usually very similar and include:

  • Completing a program/apprenticeship in barbering
  • Applying for licensure
  • Taking a written and/or practical barber examination

An education in barbering, which is usually accomplished through a dedicated barber school or through a larger, comprehensive school of cosmetology, must meet the minimum practice hour requirements for state licensure as determined by each state’s board. In Illinois, for example, candidates for barber licensure must complete a program that is at least 1,500 hours long, while candidates in Pennsylvania are required to complete a program of just 1,250 hours.

The curriculum in a state-recognized/approved barber school typically includes both theory and practical study in areas such as:

  • Bacteriology
  • Hygiene
  • Sanitation and sterilization
  • Honing and stropping
  • Shampoo and scalp massage
  • Straight razors
  • Scalp and skin diseases
  • Physiology
  • State barber laws, rules, and regulations


Passing a State Licensing Examination

All states require candidates for barber licenses to take and pass a state barber examination, which may be a state-designed examination, the national examination through the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC), or a combination of the two.

The examination process, for most states, consists of two examinations: a written examination that tests a candidate’s knowledge of barber theory, and a practical examination that tests a candidate’s barbering skills.

The NIC written examination for barbering consists of the following areas of assessments:

  • Infection control and practice
  • Hair and scalp
  • Skin histology
  • Electricity and light
  • Tools, implements, and equipment
  • Chemistry
  • Facial and shaving services
  • Haircare services
  • Chemical services

Depending on state requirements, the practical NIC barber exam may assess candidates in the use of chemicals:

Standard NIC Barber Exam:

  • Set up and client protection
  • Shaving with a straight razor
  • Haircutting
  • Chemical waving
  • Hair lightening/coloring
  • Chemical relaxing

Standard NIC Barber Exam (no chemical)

  • Set up and client protection
  • Shaving with a straight razor
  • Haircutting

Depending on state requirements, candidates of either exam may also be assessed on the following areas:

  • Basic facial
  • Blow drying
  • Thermal curling


Entering the Profession

Most barbers begin their careers by working as an employee for an established barber shop. Although salary arrangements may differ from one barbershop to the next, most barbers new to the profession begin on a commission program until they build up a clientele.

The commission process usually means splitting the money made on a haircut with the barber shop. For example, a typical commission split is 60/40, with 60 percent going to the barber and 40 percent going to the barber shop.

As barbers become more experienced and build up a solid client base, commission is usually replaced with booth rental, which requires the barber to pay the barbershop to “rent” the barber chair. Any proceeds made from the services provided are then kept in the hands of the barber.

Finally, the ultimate goal of many barbers is to open their own barbershop.

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