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Barbering VS Hair Design License in Washington State

barber cutting a man's hair

Last year, a new “Hair Design” license that was introduced in Washington State. Prior to 2016, only two distinctions were available when it came to professions styling hair in the state; either you were a Cosmetologist or a Barber. Many people have reached out to me, Frank, to ask what was different.

  • Can a Hair Designer shave?
  • Can a Hair Designer wax?
  • What other training do Hair Designers have, or don’t have, compared to Cosmetologists or Barbers?

In this blog, we will dive into the differences between a Barbering License and a Hair Design License. My intention is to help students that are interested in deciding which license is the best fit for them.

Understanding the Differences

The Law

To understand the difference, we have to examine the scope of license. The scope means what they are legally allowed to do, or not do. In Washington State, you must look at the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), aka “the law”, to understand what is permitted under the two different licenses.


Barbers engage in the practice of Barbering. According to RCW 18.16.020 the “Practice of barbering” means the cutting, trimming, arranging, dressing, curling, shampooing, shaving, and mustache and beard design of the hair of the face, neck, and scalp.

Hair Designers

On the other hand, the practice of “Hair Design” is defined as the practice of arranging, dressing, cutting, trimming, styling, shampooing, permanent waving, chemical relaxing, straightening, curling, bleaching, lightening, coloring, mustache and beard design, and superficial skin stimulation of the scalp.

As you can see, both a Barber and Hair Designer are able to design, style hair, as well shave and do beard designs. A Barber’s scope of practice ceases with the cutting and styling, while a Hair Designer can extend services to color and chemical treatments.

The Art of Undercut Hair Design: Think You Can Cut It?

In the End

The more education the better, right? Sometimes. It depends on your interest. A barber’s license requires 1000 Clock Hours, while Hair Design license requires 1400 Clock Hours. This would require a student additional time in school (400 hours) which most probable will result in increased cost. With an increase cost, and time, a student should consider how interested, and likely, are they to put this expanded scope of chemical and color treatments? If a student is passionate color and chemical treatments, it may be worth spending additional 400 hours of training and an additional investment in tuition.

Chemical treatments are extremely popular, and hair colorist are among some of the most compensated specialties when it comes hair. Their ability to leverage their time and retention (no one likes to walk around with grow out) are contributors their ability to generate revenue. However, if student has no interest in hair color or chemical services, and is only passionate to cutting and designing, it may not make sense to spend more time and resources if they do not intend to us it.

I did have some barbers reach out to me and ask me if they can upgrade and expand their license to Hair Design. The answer is yes; they would need to attain the additional 400 hours in training, and then retest to attain the Hair Design license.

What Do You Think?

You may ask, what about Cosmetology and Hair Design? Check out my other blog that compares Hair Design to Cosmetology.

Please let me know your thoughts below on this new license? Do you like it? Are you against it? It’ll be interesting to see what is in store in the road ahead!

About Frank - Beauty College Ambassador

Frank - Beauty College Ambassador shares his expertise on regulatory updates in beauty education. Frank serves as a Board Member and Past President of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, member of the AACS State Relations Committee Team for Washington State, Washington State Beauty Industry Advocate for the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), ICPE for the National Accrediting Commissioner for Cosmetology & Arts Schools and co-owns four (4) beauty colleges in Washington State.

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