Hair and Beauty

Hair and Beauty

Fix up, look sharp

Fashions may change but we’re always going to need hairdressers, barbers and beauty therapists to keep our hair under control, our nails in good shape and our skin looking splendid. 

About the hair and beauty industry

People in the hair and beauty industry work in nail bars, spas, salons, barbers and specialist establishments (such as African-Caribbean hair salons). Together they add billions of pounds to the UK economy every year, and the good news is that as long as those hairs and nails keep growing, the customers are going to keep on coming. Scissors on standby…

What can I do?

Some of the careers available in the industry are ones you’d expect. They might include working in a hairdressing salon as a stylist, for example, or in a barber’s shop shaping and trimming facial hair as well as cutting the stuff on top of our heads. Within those locations there are other roles, too – you might specialise in colouring hair, putting in extensions or even managing the salon. 

Similarly, you could be shaping, polishing and decorating nails in a nail bar, or offering a range of services in a spa. They might include massages and therapies, hand and feet treatments or body waxing. Alternatively, you might focus on facial treatments or makeup, or use the whole body as your canvas and work in spray tanning. 

As well as these roles there are more specialist areas where you can use your skills. For example, some makeup artists go on to work in the fashion industry, helping models prepare for photoshoots or catwalk shows; or they can be found in film, TV and theatre, giving performers the right look.

You may also end up running your own business – some 40% of those working in the industry are self-employed.

Fashion and beauty skills

To get ahead in fashion and beauty you’ll need a range of personal and professional skills. That includes proficiency with the tools of the trade – scissors, razors, brushes, dyes and more – and skilled hands, but also great people skills. You’ll be spending a lot of time getting quite close to people, so you need to be friendly, calm and confident to put them at ease. 

Just as important is a passion for fashion, as trends and styles are evolving all the time so you’ll need to keep up. You’ll also need to stay up to date with the latest products and techniques, so you can provide your clients with the best service. 

If you run a salon or work independently – as a freelance makeup artist, for example – you’ll also need to get your head around accounts, taxes and the various twists and curls of running a business. You’ll develop lots of these skills during your training, but a love of fashion and beauty can’t be taught – so if you have it already, it’s a good chance to turn that passion into a great career. 

Fashion and beauty careers

Roles available might include:

Beauty therapy – beauty therapist, makeup artist, beauty consultant, beauty massage therapist

Hairdressing and barbering – barber, stylist, hairdresser, colourist

Nail services and spa therapy – nail technician, spa therapist

In all these areas there are also administrative roles (such as receptionists) and the chance to progress to senior positions such as supervisor or manager. 


There are plenty of different ways to get the skills you need for the hair and beauty industry. Time to style up that career… 

Work-based & work-related qualifications 

Relevant NVQ and BTEC programmes include:

Don’t forget: BTECs etc. can also pave the way for a degree. 


There are relevant Apprenticeships at three levels:

Level Two (Intermediate) – equivalent to GCSEs / Standard Grades

Level Three (Advanced) – equivalent to A Levels / Highers

Level Four / Five (Higher) – equivalent to Foundation Degree / Advanced Highers

Apprenticeships include:

A Levels and Bachelors Degrees 

Because they tend to be more academic and less hands-on, A Levels in hairdressing aren’t generally available. However, if you want to underpin your hair and beauty career with some related A Level knowledge, useful programmes might include Business Studies or Travel and Tourism

Already know that a degree is the way you want to break into the sector? Head to UCAS and find out what A Levels (or Scottish Highers / IB modules) you’ll need for the course that interests you. 

Industry-specific degree programmes in this area include Bachelors programmes in Make-up and Hair Design, Beauty Therapy Management and specialist programmes like Special Effects Make-up; you could also consider something like business studies or marketing if you want to be ready to run a business (but you’d still need to get the practical skills, of course). 

Life in the hair and beauty industry 

First of all, do you like people? It’s a pretty essential part of the job: if you don’t fancy the idea of working close to, touching, chatting with and generally pampering people for most of your working day, this might not be the industry for you. Your clients will want someone they trust and enjoy being with to massage them, cut their hair or put on their makeup, after all. 

There are no huge companies in this area, so chances are you’ll be part of a small team – the majority of salons employ fewer than ten people. Some of the day to day activities will be fairly self-explanatory: in hairdressing and barbering, you’ll be cutting hair, for instance. 

But there’s more to it than that, as you’ll also pick up skills in styling, colouring, shaving, maintaining good hygiene in the salon and keeping track of appointments. In a spa, you’ll learn about the different kinds of therapies, while in a nail bar you’ll have to learn about the various chemicals involved and how to use them safely, as well as working on your artistic flair. In some barbers’ shops, you’ll even learn how to use fire to scorch hairs from faces. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

Hairdressing can be humbling, as almost everyone starts by sweeping the floor – even the top stylists in the world started at the bottom. But who knows where it might take you: your own business, a career as a top Instagram influencer, travelling with the stars to sort their do… it could all be a snip of the scissors away. 

You could work in…

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