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Cosmetology vs. Cosmetic Science: What’s the Difference?

Are you interested in a career in cosmetics, or would love to know more about product development so you can create your own beauty product line? Spelman College offers educational programs for those interested in learning cosmetology and cosmetic science. As one of many historically Black colleges or universities, Spelman College’s online enterprise, eSpelman, provides online certificates for students and working adults of all backgrounds interested in gaining skills in their chosen career path. In this article, we’ll explore cosmetology, cosmetic science, and more to help you decide whether this would be an exciting opportunity for your future.

What Is Cosmetology?

Cosmetology involves learning the art and science of beauty applications, treatments, and therapies. Cosmetologists learn how to apply beauty treatments and therapies to the skin, hair, and nails, as well as provide consultations about what products work best for various clients. These professionals keep advised about the latest fashion trends, new personal care technologies, and supplemental wellness treatments involved in beautifying their clients' appearance.

Training and Licensing Requirements for Cosmetology

Individual states govern the licensure requirements for individuals seeking a career in cosmetology, with each state having varying requirements. In general, you would need to have a high school diploma or GED while being 16 years of age or older. You must take and complete a state-approved cosmetology program and pass the licensing exam provided by your state board of cosmetology. Depending on your state, you may need to follow specific requirements to maintain your license and keep it in good standing.

Career Opportunities in Cosmetology

When talking about the world of cosmetology, there are numerous career options available based on what interests you. If you like taking a hands-on approach with your clients, you can focus on a specific branch of personal care. Another option is to work behind the scenes in roles such as sales rep or salon owner. Here is just a sample of the career paths that you can pursue. 

Nail Personal Care

  • Manicurist
  • Pedicurist


  • Makeup artist
  • Makeup consultant
  • Lash technician 


  • Hairstylist
  • Hair colorist

Additional Job Options

  • Personal/celebrity stylist
  • Salon owner/manager
  • Cosmetics buyer
  • Salon/spa trainer
  • Cosmetology educator or instructor
  • Cosmetology writer/editor 
You could also focus on a niche cosmetology career. You may offer hair styling or makeup treatment specifically to brides, work as a theater or stage makeup artist, or become a print makeup artist that provides services to clients who will be featured in print media, such as magazine covers. The cosmetology field is very diverse and allows you to seek out the best work that is most rewarding to you.

Understanding Cosmetic Science

Cosmetic science focuses on the study, research, and development of personal care and beauty products. A cosmetic scientist learns about the raw materials and liquid mixtures used to create nail, hair, and skincare products and treatments. They participate in the development and formulation of cosmetic products and perfumery while assessing the safety of the materials. A cosmetic scientist works in laboratories to design and develop cosmetic products while determining the efficacy, safety, and distribution of these products to the public.

Education Requirements for a Cosmetic Scientist

To become a cosmetic scientist, you must obtain a minimum Bachelor of Science in Cosmetic Science. You can also select a specific discipline, such as pharmaceutical sciences, microbiology, chemical engineering, chemistry, or biology. Although you need a bachelor’s degree to become a cosmetic scientist or chemist, a certificate in cosmetic science may be a great stepping stone on your educational journey. With a cosmetic science certificate you can gain foundational knowledge about hair, skin, nails, product creation, and trends in the cosmetic industry. This knowledge can be applied to more advanced study down the road.

Once you’ve earned a college degree, you can move on to obtaining firsthand experience by working as a lab technician under the supervision of an experienced cosmetic scientist. This arrangement prepares you for most entry-level positions. You may also continue pursuing a higher college degree, such as a Master of Science in Cosmetic Science, to open up higher job opportunities. You can learn about dermal pharmacology, polymer chemistry, and many other cosmetic science-related subjects.

Career Opportunities in Cosmetic Science

The types of cosmetic science careers that are available will be based on your level of education. You also have a choice on whether you want to take a direct approach by working in a lab or a more managerial or instruction role. Here are some career options when you are a cosmetic scientist.

  • Fragrance formulation and testing
  • Cosmetic product development
  • Quality assurance/control technician
  • Clinical testing and instrumentation
  • Research and development (R&D)
  • Product manufacturing and packaging
  • Regulatory and consumer affairs

When becoming a cosmetic scientist, you can get involved in beauty pharmaceuticals, cosmetic chemical testing, and personal care product development for small and international beauty product manufacturers. You may also take the opportunity to create and develop cosmetic and perfume products for your own business line that you will later market and sell to customers.

Difference Between Cosmetology and Cosmetic Science

There are key differences between cosmetology and cosmetic science. While both involve cosmetics and beauty care, each has different education, expertise, and job requirements, with associated career paths and opportunities. You may always pursue one option to determine whether you would like to get into cosmetology and then decide to take a more focused career path later by pursuing a higher degree.

Focus and Expertise

Cosmetology focuses on applying beauty treatments to clients. You provide cosmetic consultations as well as personal care services. With cosmetology, you may also be involved in the business side of this career. You may operate or manage hair salons, nail salons, spas, or other types of cosmetic shops.

Cosmetic science emphasizes the scientific research, development, and formulation of cosmetic products. You figure out the raw materials and mixtures necessary to create products and then evaluate the effectiveness and safety of those products before they go to market.

Education and Training Requirements

When evaluating education and training requirements, the pathway is more straightforward for cosmetology versus cosmetic science. You only need to complete a state-approved cosmetology program to obtain a cosmetology license. For cosmetic science, you can pursue a bachelor’s, master's, or Ph.D.  in cosmetic science.

You can receive additional training for both career paths after gaining your license or degree. This training allows you to further hone your skills and learn techniques while gaining additional experience.

Career Paths and Opportunities

The occupational outlook for the cosmetology industry is on the rise. Job growth is expected to increase by 11 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations (5 percent). There will be an average of 93,800 job openings for people interested in becoming hair stylists, makeup artists, barbers, and cosmetologists while working part-time or full-time. The availability of jobs will be based on your locale. On average, a cosmetologist made a median pay of $29,680 in 2021.

The occupational outlook for the cosmetic scientist industry is not separated from other chemist job paths by organizations that report this information, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, when looking at general chemist and material chemist information, job growth from 2021 to 2031 is expected to increase by 6 percent. Most jobs are full-time, and there was an average of 90,600 openings available in 2021. The median salary varies based on your degree, yet you could make about $79,760 a year as a chemist.

Study Cosmetic Science With Spelman College

While there are differences between the fields of cosmetology and cosmetic science, both are ultimately focused on enhancing the beauty and wellness of others. Having a strong foundational understanding of the science behind the cosmetic products we use and the trends and innovations that drive that usage will be an asset no matter which path you choose.

Here at eSpelman, we offer a cosmetic science certificate for those interested in taking virtual classes. Submit a request for more information from the eSpelman team today.