Hair Colorist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Oct 20, 2021

Hair colorists use reactive chemicals to change the color of a person's hair. As professional cosmetologists, they must complete a state-approved cosmetology program and obtain state licensure prior to working in the field. This licensure must be periodically renewed.

Essential Information

Hair colorists are licensed cosmetologists who specialize in altering the color or tint of their clients' hair. Hair coloring is a typical part of any cosmetology or beauty training program, and the general cosmetologist licensure exam tests candidates on their coloring skills. A stylist who wishes to further specialize in hair coloring can take advantage of continuing education courses offered at cosmetology schools or through hair care product manufacturers.

Required Education State-approved cosmetology program
Licensure Cosmetologist license required in all states
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* -2% increase for all hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists
Median Salary (2019)* $26,090 for all hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

A hair colorist changes the color of the hair with reactive chemicals. Using an application tool, such as a brush or wand, the hair colorist applies a solution that will lighten or darken the hair. Hair colorists must be good communicators in order to reach an understanding about the desired outcomes and looks for their clients.

Job Duties

Before starting to work, hair colorists consult with their clients about their desired look. They usually wear protective gloves and sometimes aprons to shield themselves from the dyes and bleaches they will be exposed to during the coloring process. The hair colorist is responsible for timing the process to obtain the desired results. While larger hair salons will often employ persons who specialize in hair coloring, in smaller salons, the general cosmetologists may handle hair-coloring duties and also be responsible for shampoos, cuts and styling. Some hair colorists work long shifts and spend almost their entire work period on their feet. Hair colorists must maintain records about their clients' procedures and products used.

Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2019, the BLS reported that workers in the 90th percentile or higher earned $51,870 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $18,420 or less per year. The BLS does not report salaries for hair colorists individually. The BLS predicted an employment decline for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists from 2019-2029.


In most states, getting a job as a colorist requires a combination of completing formal training at a state-accredited school and obtaining a cosmetologist license by passing a standardized test. Licensing is mandatory in all states.


Hair colorists must complete training at an approved school of cosmetology. Hair coloring is included in the general training. During the hair coloring course, cosmetology students learn the proper procedures for coloring different types of hair, how to choose a suitable color and even how to dye eyelashes and brows. A cosmetologist who has finished basic education and obtained a license can take advanced training in coloring either hands-on, online or by viewing classes on DVDs.


There are no specialized state licenses for hair colorists, but every state requires that a colorist hold a state cosmetology license. Requirements vary from state to state, but most require that the applicant have completed at least 1,000 hours of formal training and passed a practical hands-on skills test as well as a written exam. Cosmetologists must renew their licenses periodically, and some states require evidence of additional training during that period. A colorist who holds a cosmetologist license in one state will have to present evidence of training in order to obtain a license in another state.

It is important for hair colorists to be excellent communicators, as they need to interact with clients in order to help them achieve a specific look or style. Aspiring hair colorists should be comfortable with the idea of spending large portions of the day on their feet and working with various dyes and bleaches. A state-approved cosmetology program and licensure are required to get started in this career.

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