Can You Open a Salon Without a Cosmetology License?

A salon is, first and foremost, a business. And, as it so happens, you don’t generally need a cosmetology license to run a business — at least not in most states. Would it help to have a cosmetology license when opening a salon? Sure. Most certified cosmetology professionals even recommend not opening a salon unless or until you have one all your own. However, if the benefits of getting a cosmetology license don’t seem to weigh out the negatives for you, or else you simply don’t have the time, resources, or desire to bother obtaining one, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to put your entrepreneurial dreams on hold.

You can open a salon without a cosmetology license in most states. Before starting you should know the industry, the market, and niche. Be capable of selecting a suitable venue and register your salon with the government as an official business so you can obtain the permits necessary to operate legally. Expect to pass mandatory safety and sanitation inspections. Hire people with cosmetology licenses who will provide consistent, quality services, keep customers happy, and make the business a success.


Benefits of Opening a Salon Without a Cosmetology License

The benefits of opening a salon with a cosmetology license are probably far more obvious to most people than the benefits of opening without one. Having a cosmetology license means you know firsthand what works and what doesn’t, the common beauty dilemmas on most people’s minds, the many intricacies of skin, beauty, and haircare, what’s what and who’s who in the industry, and the science behind it all.

Additionally, chances are that if you have a cosmetology license, you also possess that natural artistic flare and technique that turns even the slightest makeover into a walking, talking, breathing masterpiece. All these factors, tied in with working for yourself and pocketing far more money than you probably would otherwise, equate to a pretty sweet deal.

In fact, regarding the aforementioned latter situation in which you open a salon without a cosmetology license, a majority of beauty professionals will tell you there are no real benefits. Many more insist on the importance of having a cosmetology license before attempting to open and run an entire cosmetology business, which is, truthfully, a fair assessment. However, this entire thing is far more nuanced than you might think.

Consider this:

Can You Open a Salon Without a Cosmetology License?

Celebrity handlers and sports managers don’t generally have hands-on, firsthand, first-person background in singing, dancing, acting, athletics, etc. — and if they do, chances are its minimal. What they have instead is a deep understanding of the industry paired with business smarts and a knack for networking, investment, marketing, and other entrepreneurial pursuits. This way, the people they work for — whether that be a popstar or a football player or another type of talent — can focus on what they do best, and leave the rest to the people who are specifically trained to do business and run the show.


Running a business is a full-time job.

The most successful businesses generally have specialized people doing each job rather than one person running the entire show. This comes down to that old “jack of all trades, master of none” technique versus the “master of one” approach. While there are arguments to be made for both, there’s a reason why as soon as businesses start to see steady profit and success stemming from their efforts, the first thing they generally do is search for skilled, specialized professionals to take over essential roles that require higher degrees of time, energy, exertion, knowledge, experience, and skill.

If you have your cosmetology license and open a salon, chances are you’ll be working on the floor just as much as the people you hire, or at most, maybe a tiny bit less. You’ll be just as exhausted as everyone else after a day of serving customers and meeting their needs, and then on top of that, you’ll also be juggling the entire business, ownership, and management fronts!

Worse yet, squeezing all of those essentials into a mere window of an hour or two a day after hours upon hours of grueling physical, mental, and emotional labor is not a recipe for success — or, for that matter, general happiness. Rather, it’s an excellent way to burnout and fail in what should have been a lucrative venture for you.


Why opening a salon without a cosmetology license is a great idea:

1. As Long as it’s legal to do so wherever you are currently located.

2. You either already have the skills, or else are willing to acquire the skills to run not just a business, but a business specific to the complex, ever-evolving cosmetology industry,

3. You love cosmetology with all your heart, but realize you’d rather have other people working the floor while you handle administrative, analytical, and financial matters in the front and back of the salon instead.


What about beauty services that don’t need a cosmetology license?


How to Open a Salon Without a Cosmetology License

Don’t worry. There are plenty of other hurdles you must overcome in order to successfully open a salon — cosmetology license or not. For one, you’ll need a business permit. Moreover, in order to get a business permit, you’ll also have to get your salon registered as a small business. Incorporation, organization, registration, and of course, federal taxes, are what make privately-owned, small salons go round — and operate legally, of course. Then, you’ll need a venue, a starting sum of money, supplies, products, furniture, electronics, appliances, and more.

Further, you’ll be expected to pass several different inspections by the authorities. Safety and sanitation are equal parts important — and the people in charge won’t let you forget it. Not only must your salon have structural integrity, but it also must be up to current fire codes, have sufficient plumbing, and devoid of any electrical hazards.

Plus, there’s also the sanitation inspection to look forward to. Cleanliness is key, not only to passing an inspection, but also in having happy employees and customers who actually want to return after their first visit. No one likes to leave a salon feeling filthier than they did when they entered it. Top-notch hygiene standards are crucial to surviving in this industry.

Understand your Business

Can You Open a Salon Without a Cosmetology License?

Returning to the earlier example of celebrity handlers and sports managers, note how well-versed they are in their respective industries. Having business savvy and related knowledge is only half of the battle. That’s why, when opening a salon without a cosmetology license, an understanding of business and entrepreneurial inclinations by themselves are not enough. Rather, it’s just as vital to learn about the industry you’ll be working in — even if you won’t be the one with your hands soaked and covered in hair conditioner.

Understanding the profession ensures you can keep up with the trends, identify the needs of customers, know how best to finance and stock your salon, identify and solve any problems that may arise, and hire the right people. Read up, talk to industry professionals, speak to your friends and family members who are passionate about beauty and haircare, listen to podcasts, and peruse style magazines. See what you can find to study in the cosmetology-specific corner of the business world. Learn about the marketing aspect and profit margins involved. Ensure you understand not only what is standard in the industry, but also the role you and your salon play in it. And, of course, accept that you will also probably be learning tons of stuff while already on the job, and that some of this may clash with the stuff you picked up from the textbooks.

Hire Licensed Cosmetologists

Especially since you don’t have your own cosmetology license, you’ll need to hire some people who do. You can’t cut corners here — you’ll need to be able to provide proof of valid, current cosmetology license and certification for each one of your employees who you hire to work the floor and provide beauty services of any kind. There’s no getting around the authorities on this one. And, if you hire people who are only up to standard on paper but unsatisfactory in practice, the authorities won’t be the only ones who’ll notice — your customers will, too.

Once again, knowing the industry well will be handy here. In understanding who and what to look for, as well as who and what to avoid, you’ll be able to compile a strong team of employees with all the specialized but diverse talents essential to your salon’s niche. This will, in both the short and long term, be worth the effort. Having the knowledge to curate the perfect team for your salon means better services, better work atmosphere, more profits, higher tips, a team that knows what they’re doing in general, happy employees who are more likely to stay in the long run, and truly content customers.

And, as any dedicated, regular salon-goer knows, a salon is only as good as its dependability and the people there who know them, their hair, and their life drama even better than they do. At the end of the day, it’s less about hair and more about quality, sincerity, consistency, and trust.


Related Questions

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1. If I don’t have a cosmetology license and the salon gets too busy, can I still help my stylists out?

No, as far as providing beauty services of any sort to the customers, sadly you can’t. Cosmetology licensing exists for a reason, and without it, you are not legally or ethically permitted to deliver beauty services to anyone in your salon under any circumstances whatsoever. Only licensed employees are allowed to directly provide services to the customers.


2. If I own and run a salon, but can’t work on the floor providing direct beauty services to the customers since I don’t have a cosmetology license, does that mean I’ll have tons of spare time?

Unless you decide to hire out for all of your business, financial, and administrative tasks, probably not. Those tasks might sound small, but they’re not. They’re very consuming — not only of your time, but of your mind, effort, and energy as well.


Looking to start your own Salon? Get the documents you need to get organized and funded here.

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.