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How to become a hairstylist in the UK

Here is a quick, in-depth guide with all you need to know to become a hairdresser, including training and insurance requirements and where to get a job.

When it comes to choosing a profession, something that is in high demand is always a wise decision, especially if you want longevity within your career. Given our hair is constantly growing, there is always going to be a need for people to cut, colour and style it. Therefore, becoming a hairstylist is an excellent choice, especially if you have an existing passion for hair and beauty.

The road to becoming a fully qualified hairstylist involves lots of practical work, as well as understanding the theory behind hairdressing. This includes learning about face shapes, mixing colour correctly and, of course, customer service. It’s safe to say, the requirements are as multidimensional as the colour you’ll be applying!

If you are interested in becoming a hairstylist, take a snip at our guide to tell you more about what you can expect.

Becoming A Hairstylist: An Overview

Hairdressing is a creative job that involves making your clients feel good about themselves with the work you create. Those who excel in the field can expect to build a loyal client list, that will follow them even if they move locations. Although the salary can be basic at first, there is a chance to make it much more lucrative, especially as you gain experience in the profession.

However, it goes without saying that to become a truly great hairstylist, you must adore hair and working with the public. Plus, you need to be willing to get stuck into the more menial jobs in the salon as you start out. This includes tasks such as cutting foils for colouring, sweeping up hair, washing towels, sanitising equipment, etc.

Average Hairstylist Salary

The average salary for hairdressers in the UK ranges between £14,000 and £30,000. When you’re first starting out, the wages will be lower owing to a lack of experience. But as you become more confident and master more difficult techniques, your income will steadily rise.

As for salon owners, industry research suggests they can expect to earn over £100,000 a year. However, this depends on the type of salon in terms of its size and overall business strategy. There are lots of options such as opening a regular hair salon or specialising in a blowdry bar.

Given hairstyling does not require a degree and you can learn on the job, the salary progression is not bad going. In fact, many famous hairstylists such as John Frieda and Vidal Sassoon started their careers this way, slowly gaining experience from others until one day developing their global brands.


There are various avenues you take to get into hairdressing, though the most common is taking an NVQ Level 2 or a diploma in hairdressing at a college. To get on a diploma course, you’ll require at least 4 GCSEs at A-C level, including Maths and English.

Aside from diplomas, various hairdressing apprenticeships exist. This option allows you to get paid as you learn on the job, though further training will be required if you want to be able to climb the ranks from junior stylist to creative director.

Even after qualifying, hairdressers will require training throughout their career. This will help you keep up with changing fashions and demand. For example, highlights require a very different application technique to balayage. Likewise, cutting techniques are ever-evolving too, and your clients are going to expect you to keep up.

Training is also provided in-salon, and the more you train throughout your career, the easier it will be for you to progress to a senior stylist.


Hair is our crowning glory, and the right haircut can make a huge difference to not only how a client looks, but how they feel too. Therefore, the first skill should be a great eye for style, especially in relation to the client’s face shape and lifestyle. For colouring, you’ll also need to understand skin tones, as some shades work best with certain undertones. Not to mention, all of the knowledge that’s needed for mixing different colours and toners together.

Of course, an integral part of hairdressing is the customer service element. From the moment your client walks through the door to the second they leave, they should have an excellent experience. This includes a warm greeting, listening to their requests and ensuring they are 100% happy with the finished result. So, it certainly pays to be a people person in this industry.

Hairdressing Disciplines

  • Cutting
  • Colouring
  • Colour correction
  • Blow drying
  • Highlights
  • Lowlights
  • Balayage
  • Perming
  • Curling
  • Chemical straightening
  • Ethnic hair styling
  • Children’s hairdressing
  • Barber cutting
  • Wedding/formal hairstyling
  • Extension application & removal
  • Wig styling

Where Can I Work As A Hairstylist?

Hairstylists traditionally work in a hair salon. Given there over 35,000 hair salons in the UK alone, this is a great place to start if you are thinking of entering the profession.

Some hairstylists rent a chair in a salon, whereas others are employed by the salon directly. Renting a chair is also a great option if you wish to work in a beauty salon or spa, too.

Other possibilities include mobile hairdressing, where you can run your own business and work in customer’s homes or in a care home setting.

Some hairdressers also work in film and TV as well as on magazine shoots. This line of work can be incredibly lucrative, especially if you start to develop a name for yourself. As one example, Chris Appleton started out working at a hair salon in Leicester. After plenty of knockbacks in his career, he now is an A-list hairdresser working for the likes of Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, so it’s definitely possible!

Finally, cruise ships also recruit hairdressers too. If you don’t have any responsibilities, this option is a great way to see the world while building your experience.

Hairstylist Job Roles

One of the perks of being a hairstylist is that there is a lot of room for progression, and with that comes not just experience but an increased salary, too.

Starting with the lowest rank, here is how you can expect to progress throughout your career:


Salary: £4.55-£8.20 per hour

Shampooists are often part-time and may only work on Saturdays. Their role is not only to shampoo hair but to sweep the floors, make tea, wash towels, etc.

Unless having a ‘dry cut’, all clients will need their hair shampooing. While it doesn’t take as much skill as cutting and colouring, it’s still an integral part of the process. Shampooists need to have an excellent manner with customers, ensuring they are comfortable and that the water temperature is just right. The technique is also important, especially when it comes to learning how to clean the hair, remove foil strips and of course, master that all important head massage.


Salary: £4.55-£8.20 per hour

The role of an assistant is similar to a shampooist, but with a little more responsibility. Assistants shampoo clients but also assist in blowdries or other tasks that require an extra pair of hands. Most assistants work part-time but usually more hours than a shampooist.


Salary: £4.15 per hour

Apprenticeships are one of the best ways to get into hairdressing, though you must be approved by a college scheme to get on one. You’ll spend plenty of time in the salon learning on the job while being independently assessed and tutored by your college, too.

The role of an apprentice involves welcoming clients, managing the diary, shampooing as well as basic cutting, colouring and styling tasks.

Junior Stylist

Salary: £6.80-£8.20 per hour

Recently qualified hairdressers call themselves junior stylists. They carry out most tasks across the salon, though their lack of experience means they can’t yet command a higher rate.


Salary: £8.20-£10.27 per hour

Hairstylists who are qualified to NVQ Level 3 and above. Stylists are fully independent and should have mastered more complex cutting, colouring and styling techniques. They may have also worked in several salons by this point in their career.

Senior Stylist

Salary: £10.27-£12.50 per hour

Senior stylists have several years of hairdressing under their belt and are therefore able to charge higher rates. They may also be well known in their local area, having built up quite a dedicated client list.

When management is not around, senior stylists will be left to run the salon. Plus they’ll assist in training junior stylists and apprentices, too, so there is a lot of responsibility involved.

The choice for senior stylists is to remain as an employee or to branch out and create their own salon or mobile hairdressing business. Success is a lot more likely as an independent at this point, due to the long experience of working in a salon environment and understanding how the business side of things works.

Creative Director

Salary: £13.75-£19.25 per hour

Hairstylists with decades of experience have usually developed their own cutting or colouring style by now, which can earn them the title of creative director. As a result, they don’t tend to carry out the day-to-day tasks such as shampooing or cleaning, instead sticking to their expertise such as cutting or colouring instead.

Creative directors may also assist on VIP jobs or be hired for celebrity photoshoots. This is especially the case if they’ve developed a name for themselves in their field.

Creative directors can expect to earn a much higher salary than any other employee except management.

Salon Owner

Salary: Dependant on business

Salon owners are responsible for running the business, though may also still work actively on the salon floor, too.

Anyone can open their own hair salon, though without extensive experience in the industry it can be tough to make a success of it.

With the right strategy and attitude, salon owners can expect to take home a 6-figure salary, especially if the salon is larger or high end.

Do I Need Insurance As A Hairstylist?

Yes, hairstylists need to be covered by Employers’ Liability Insurance if they have any employees, and/or Public Liability Insurance if working as a freelancer or business owner.

The reason for this is because there are so many potential hazards for you, your staff, clients and even visitors to your salon. Taking colour as an example, your client may have an allergic reaction (even after having a patch test). Although rare, these things happen due to the many chemicals involved in the hair colouring process.

Or, an employee could electrocute themselves, or a client could trip over a cable and break their leg. Hair salons are full of equipment, after all.

Then, there is the scenario that you do work that the client is not happy with. This could include extensions that cause hair loss, or a colour that goes wrong. Even with a thorough consultation, you’ll know as a hairstylist that things don’t always go to plan!

That’s why you need to be covered either as an employee on your boss’s insurance or on your own insurance as a self-employed hairstylist. Otherwise, you could be breaking the law, plus any such incidents could put you out of business if the client decides to sue and you aren’t covered with insurance. And for those wanting to open a salon, these have slightly different insurance needs.

How Much Does It Cost To Become A Hairstylist?

If you are aged between 16-18, college education for NVQ Level 2/Level 3 hairdressing is normally free. Also if you’re unemployed, not on any other training course and between the ages of 18-25, you may also be able to secure a free place on a course.

Outside of this, colleges charge around £3,500 for a two year course in NVQ Level 3 hairdressing. Keep in mind you’ll also be required to buy your course materials, too.

One advantage of going on a course (paid or not) is that you are more likely to pick up salon work if you’re at least studying to become a qualified hairdresser. Not only will this further your studies, but it's more likely to lead to a job after you qualify, as hairdressers often keep students on. Plus, you’ll be paid to learn as you do so!

Cost Of Tools

While studying to become a hairstylist, you’ll need tools to be able to master all of the practical elements of the job. However, if you intend on becoming freelance or self-employed, then you’ll need professional grade tools to be able to carry out your work. The tools need to be superior quality, as they will go through a lot more wear and tear than personal styling tools.

Salon grade hair dryer (such as Dyson)£300
GHD tools (each)£100-£150
Professional hairdressing scissors£300-£500
Salon size shampoo, conditioner and masks for different hair types£500
Styling products£200
Accessories (gowns, clips, pins, brushes etc)£100

The above is just a snapshot and doesn’t include colour or developer, which cost between £10 and £20 each. The amount of colour you need to order will depend on the services you provide, such as regular colours or extreme colours such as pink or pastel shades.

If you plan on buying an existing salon, then fixtures and fittings normally come with the purchase price. But if you are starting a new salon from scratch, then furnishing it could run into tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the level of spec you go for.

It’s fair to say that if you are going it alone in any capacity, you’ll need a strong head for business. That’s because if you don’t include all of your overheads (materials, salary, bills, tax, hairdresser insurance costs, etc), your business won’t stay afloat. So, it’s good to get plenty of experience working in a salon first so you can learn what it takes to be successful.

Is Being A Hairstylist Hard?

On the face of it, being a hairstylist merely involves cutting hair, putting it into updos and touching up roots, right? Well, it’s the very best stylists that make hairdressing look easy!

Hairstylists work 37-40 hours per week on average. It’s very physical work as you’ll be on your feet all day. Not to mention, getting an arm workout in with all those blowdries.

There’s also a huge difference being training on a hairdressing doll and the real thing. Clients require their every whim catering for in the form of plenty of conversation, and of course the obligatory cup of tea. Ultimately, you are there to serve them, and if they aren’t happy with the service or finished result, it could bring you or your salon into disrepute.

So it’s safe to say you have to truly love hair to be able to withstand such challenges. After all, every industry has its pros and cons, and hairstyling is no exception. But if you can work hard and persist, you’ll be more likely to succeed and forge a successful career.

To Sum Up

Hairstylists often note that the industry is not encouraged anywhere near as much as it should be at careers talks in schools. The reality is that hairdressing is something most of us require on a regular basis, so it’s never going to be in short demand. That means it’s a job that you can do anywhere, whether working in a salon or self-employed.

Plus there is plenty of career progression, especially if you’re prepared to stick with and continually develop your skills. Some hairdressers have even branched out to create their own brand of hair care products such as Josh Wood or Nicky Clarke. Therefore with hairdressing, the sky's the limit!

Rachael O'Flaherty

Rachael O’Flaherty is a freelance writer who graduated from Teesside University in 2012. Her background is in digital marketing and journalism, with a particular interest in money saving hacks. For more information, see Rachael's Linked In profile.