Cosmetology VS Hair Design License in Washington State

woman working in a beauty career

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, I will dive into the difference between a Cosmetology 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.

To understand the difference, we have to examine the differences in the two scopes of practice. The scope of practice meaning what the two licenses are legally allowed to, or not to do.

The Law

In Washington State, it’s appropriate to visit the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), a.k.a “the law”,  to understand what is permitted under the two different licenses.

cosmetologist cutting hair


Cosmetologist can engage in the practice of Cosmetology. According to RCW 18.16.020, the “practice of cosmetology” means arranging, dressing, cutting, trimming, styling, shampooing, permanent waving, chemical relaxing, straightening, curling, bleaching, lightening, coloring, waxing, tweezing, shaving, and mustache and beard design of the hair of the face, neck, and scalp; temporary removal of superfluous hair by use of depilatories, waxing, or tweezing; manicuring and pedicuring, limited to cleaning, shaping, polishing, decorating, and caring for and treatment of the cuticles and nails of the hands and feet, excluding the application and removal of sculptured or otherwise artificial nails; esthetics limited to toning the skin of the scalp, stimulating the skin of the body by the use of preparations, tonics, lotions, or creams; and tinting eyelashes and eyebrows.

hair designer doing updo

Hair Design

In comparison, 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.

The Differences

As you can see, both a Cosmetologist and Hair Designer are able to design, style, color, chemically relax and straighten hair. A Hair Designer scope ceases with the hair and beard, while a Cosmetologist can extend services to waxing, facials, manicuring and pedicures. The more education the better, right? Sometimes. It depends on your interest.


A Hair Design license requires 1400 Clock Hours, while Cosmetology license requires 1600 Clock Hours. This would require a student additional time in school (200 hours) which, most likely result in an increase tuition cost.   With an increase in tuition, and time, a student should consider how interested, and likely, are they to put the expanded scope for facials, manicuring and pedicures to work? If a student is passionate about facials, manicuring and pedicures, it may be worth spending additional 6-8 weeks of training and an additional investment in tuition.


However, if a student is passionate about the facials, manicuring and pedicures, and would like to take the plunge, they need to know that this expanded scope is still limited. For example, although a cosmetologist is able perform some skin treatments, it does not expand to all skin treatments like microdermabrasion or laser hair removal. To be able to do those types of treatments, an individual would need to attain an Esthetician and/or Master Esthetician license. As for nails, a cosmetologist that engages in nail care, is limited to natural nails; any nail enhancements such as acrylics and gels would require a manicurist license.

What Do You Think?

As you can see, this new license is exciting, but it’s important to do your homework. As you are visiting schools, salons and spas, I would encourage you ask questions, explore, and find the right option for you.

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

Frank Trieu
Vice President of Business Development & Industry Relations

Frank Trieu is a cosmetology industry leader, and despite his accomplishments and accolades, he still prioritizes students on the Evergreen campus. Through building relationships within the community and local salons, retail stores, and spas, he helps facilitate job placements for aspiring beauty professionals using his expansive network.

Happy Evergreen Beauty College Students


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leaann Pedigo
leaann Pedigo
4 years ago

I feel it’s just another way for the state to make money. To complete the full cosmetologist program in Spokane it’s 16:00 no matter what if you enroll in the cosmetologist program . When I went to beauty school everything fell under the cosmetologist license . You could further your education if you want to specialize in a certain area but as a cosmetologist you were able to do it all we did acrylic nails we did facials hair on the head beard trims manicures pedicures everything was covered and where they were not divide . If you wanted to specialize in a certain area you could further your education at your own free will and whatever your employer at a day spa or whatever required I’m not in favor of what’s going on it only makes everything more confusing also .

3 years ago

can you do body waxing under a cosmotology license?

Diana Escobar
Diana Escobar
3 years ago

I’m a licensed Cosmo from California and I love doing nails especially acrylics and California has no problem with me doing acrylics because that’s what we were taught in school. But coming to Washington state I can’t do acrylics so that’s a bummer and sucks because it’s my passion. I think they should be right where California is and let people do acrylics with a Cosmo license. I don’t know if they teach acrylics in Washington Cosmo schools but it’s really not that hard to teach. The acrylic nail business is huge and in high demand these days. I’m also bummed because even if I did want to get my manicurist license I’d have to wait because of covid. 😑 I can’t catch a break living in Washington it’s been a whole year and the only place I’ve been able to work at was gene Juarez but I quit because I really don’t enjoy working on only natural nails it’s not as fun or artistic as acrylics.

Crystal Cline
Crystal Cline
2 years ago

I wonder, for instance if you had started your cosmetology license at another school, and reached, lets say 1350 hours and transfer to evergreen to learn there is a difference between Hair Design and Cosmetology, and were not really interested in doing nails, facials, waxing, etc. ..
Would you be able to switch over your “field” to Hair Design after accumulating so many hours from a different institution under “Cosmetology”?