Job Duties

Barbers improve the appearance of their customers’ hair, mainly by cutting it. Some barbers are known as hair stylists, and they shape their the hair of their clients to match facial features, hair quality, and lifestyle. They talk with the customer about their needs and desires concerning their hair. Then they shampoo, condition, cut, dry, and shape the customer’s hair using many different techniques. Some barbers curl or straighten hair with chemical solutions and other equipment. Some give shaves, trim beards and mustaches, and give scalp and facial massages. They often keep records of their clients’ visits, including services performed, products purchased, and money charged.

Some barbers work with customers who have toupees, fitting, measuring, and grooming them. Some use microscopes and other equipment to diagnose hair problems. They may even send samples of clients’ hair to laboratories to be analyzed. After they diagnose the problem, they often recommend conditioning treatments. Barbers maintain their equipment, keeping scissors, combs, and other instruments sterilized. They are responsible for keeping their work stations clean and sweeping the shop. Those who manage shops usually order supplies, keep financial records, pay bills, and hire workers.

Job Skills

Barbers need to have a high degree of creative drive and a passion for cutting and styling hair. Because their work involves so much interaction with different clients, they should have a pleasant personality, as well as good communication and conversation skills. They need to have excellent manual dexterity. They should also be able to stand for long periods of time.


Barbers are paid a set fee for services, a commission, or a guaranteed weekly wage, whichever is higher. Commissions are usually 40% to 80% of the gross amount the barber’s station. The hourly wage of barbers usually starts at minimum wage. Earnings depend on the size, location, and type of shop in which they work. They also may earn commissions on products they sell. Usually they receive tips as well. Very few barbers receive benefits such as insurance or vacation. Most work 40 hour weeks, including evenings and weekends.

Training and Education

Barbers are often required to be licensed by the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. Requirements vary, but in California, for example, applicants for licenses must by at least 17 years old, have a ninth grade education, and complete and approved barber course. Graduates compete a written, oral, and practical examination covering different areas of barbering and styling. Applicants can also qualify for a license by completing a two-year apprenticeship program that includes classroom instruction and full-time, paid on-the-job training.

Apprenticeships are available in many metropolitan areas. Barbers wishing to improve their skills can complete courses through barber colleges or manufacturers. Barbers with a great deal of experience sometimes open their own barber shop. Some may become licensed barber college instructors, and others may move on to work for manufacturers of barber products. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.


In 2002, barbers, including hair stylists, hair dresser, and cosmetologists, held about 651,000 jobs. Most were employed in barber shops or beauty salons.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of barbers is expected to increase more slowly than the average. Very few graduates of cosmetology programs are opting to obtain barber licenses. In addition, many barbers are retiring. Most job openings will result from the need to replace workers who retire, change occupations, or leave their jobs for other reasons.