California Licensing Overview for a Cosmetologist

Licensing for a cosmetologist in California is controlled by the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

General Guidelines for a Cosmetologist in California

Specific requirements to perform cosmetologist services can generally be used as a guideline, but make sure to check with your local governing rules and regulations.

Who’s allowed to perform these services?


General requirements for cosmetologist license required?

At least 16 years old; 10th grade education or equivalent.

What’s the state licensing site for cosmetologist?

California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology

What are some training programs available for cosmetologist?

See training programs

How long is a license good for and when do I need to renew?

Renews in odd-numbered years by the original licensing date.

What are fees associated with licensing?


Cosmetologist / Esthetician Licensing

A cosmetologist is a beauty professional who specializes in the beautification and health of their client’s hair, skin and nails. An esthetician is a beauty professional that specializes in the beautification and health of their client’s skin, particularly through hair removal, skin and facial treatments and the application of makeup. With additional training, a cosmetologist can become an esthetician and vice versa. While there are fundamental differences between cosmetologists and estheticians as we have just explained, the process of becoming licensed within each career is almost the same.

There are four main steps that need to be completed to become a qualified cosmetologist / esthetician in the state of California. These include:

  1. The successful completion of a cosmetology / esthetician course
  2. Successfully undergo state testing and pass the minimum requirements of each test
  3. Maintain your knowledge base through regular education to keep your cosmetologist / esthetician license current.


There are basic educational requirements needed before one can become a licenced cosmetologist and/or esthetician in California. The minimum education requirement for this profession is a certificate or diploma in cosmetology / esthetician undertaken at a beauty school registered by the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE). To successfully complete this course, students are required to undertake a minimum of 1600 hours of training before they can be signed off. For further training, some beauticians may choose to gain an associate degree to boost their qualifications. For those looking to begin their own start up business, an associate degree is quite a desirable skill to possess. To become an esthetician with student’s need to complete 600 registered hours at a registered school of estheticians. 

Another popular method in which to become a standard cosmetologist in California is through an apprenticeship. To gain an apprenticeship, a student must be over the age of 16 years and have successfully completed year 10 of high school. For those wishing to undertake an apprenticeship instead of attending a registered beauty school, they will need to be accepted under the charge of a licensed cosmetologist and complete a two year program of 3,200 hours, with an additional classroom instruction of at least 220 hours.

Application for licensure

Upon the successful completion of a cosmetology / esthetician course or an apprenticeship, students within California are required to submit an application for licensure. This license application must be submitted to the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology for both a cosmetology license and an esthetician license. The cost of this application is $125 for a student graduating from a beauty school.

Licensing Exam

California requires students who wish to become fully licensed as a cosmetologist to successfully pass a licensing exam. California uses the National Cosmetology Examination through the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) as their written examination. This exam consists of two parts: a theoretical exam, and a practical exam. The written exam consists of 100 test questions and students are allowed 120 minutes to complete it. The practical examination lasts about 4 hours. Both examinations are available in a range of languages.

For esthetician students, upon the completion of their studies, they must complete an “Esthetician Application for Examination” along with paying the license fee of $115 to the board. To be eligible for an esthetician license in California, you must be at least 17 years old and have completed the 10th grade.

Theoretical examination

The theoretical exam for both cosmetology and esthetician is conducted by PSI Services LLC on behalf of the NIC. The exam consists of questions relating to the fields of hygiene, human anatomy, skin analysis, chemistry and more. The exam has 100 questions that will cover a range of areas that are specific to the course content relevant to your field of study and takes up to 120 minutes to complete.

Read on to see some sample theoretical questions for the cosmetologist exam.

Which of the following refers to the deepest layer of the epidermis?

  1. Stratum spinosum
  2. Stratum granulosum
  3. Stratum germinativum
  4. Stratum lucidum

As hair cells grow, what is the process that they go through to reach full development?

  1. Eumelanin
  2. COHNS
  3. Keratin
  4. Keratinization

How may cranial bones do humans have?

  1. 10
  2. 8
  3. 9
  4. 7

Which of the following will not affect the rate of growth of a nail?

  1. Prenatal vitamins
  2. Exercise
  3. Diet
  4. General health

Read on to see some sample theoretical questions for the esthetician exam.

What is one of the principal functions of the skeletal system?

  1. It protects dendrites
  2. It aids in the metabolic process
  3. It produces red and white blood cells
  4. It produces calcium

Which of the following substances do the sebaceous glands utilize to lubricate the skin?

  1. Lymph
  2. Ascorbic acid
  3. Uric acid
  4. Lipids

Quats, or quaternary ammonium compounds are used by estheticians because…

  1. They are odorless
  2. They don’t soften plastic bottles
  3. They kill bacterial spores
  4. They disinfect tools quickly

What are actinic keratoses?

  1. Rough skin patches
  2. Hives
  3. Shingles
  4. Atopic dermatitis

The cosmetology practical exam is run by the Professional Credential Services (PCS) and takes up to 90 minutes to complete.

The practical exam will typically look at a range of areas of the profession including (but not limited to):

  • Maintaining a safe work environment
  • Hair set up
  • Hair removal
  • Hair cutting
  • Hair coloring  

The esthetician practical exam is run by the Professional Credential Services (PCS) and takes up to 90 minutes to complete.

The practical exam will typically look at a range of areas of the profession including (but not limited to):

  • Hygienic set up
  • Facial cleansing
  • Hair removal
  • Makeup application
  • Facial mask

Ongoing education

Following the successful completion of your state license to become either a cosmetology or an esthetician, it is important to remember that you must renew this license every two years. This process is simple and can be done online through the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. There is a fee of $50 for this two-year renewal. In California, there are no ongoing education requirements for cosmetology or esthetician licenses, however, many professionals continue to grow their expertise. This allows them to stay up to date with the latest techniques and trends in the field of beauty.