If you’ve been thinking about a career in hair, you’ve probably come across these terms: hair dressing and hair styling. You probably thought that you could use the terms interchangeably—but you’re wrong. Don’t worry, though! Even those working in the beauty industry are confused! Is there’s even a difference at all?

The answer to your question is yes! There’s a huge difference! It lies mainly in the type of work you’ll be doing, the professional training you’ll need, and the tools you’re qualified to work with. We’re going to take a deep-dive into these differences… so keep reading!

hair styling

The Similarities

Before we jump into the differences, it’s important to note that there are many similarities.

Professional care

Both hairdressers and hairstylists (should) want to ensure they protect their clients’ hair from damage as best they can. A healthy head of hair translates to beautiful final looks! And both professions want their client to look their best! In QC’s Hair Styling Essentials Course, students learn how to protect their client’s hair from heat damage, cuticle damage, and how to keep it looking healthy overall.

Determining what suits clients’ style

Trained hairdressers and hairstylists are also great at helping their clients figure out look will best suit them and their needs. Listening to clients speak about what they want is a huge part of both jobs. Their lifestyle could determine how they would want their hair to look. Some prefer a no-fuss bob if they’re working outside. You might even find yourself with the opposite situation—trying to dissuade a corporate lawyer from getting rainbow tresses!

But hair professionals also study up on facial features and hair type! There are so many hairstyles to choose from – the list is infinite! But the best hairstylists and hairdressers know that some hair cuts or styles just aren’t viable for certain clients.

hairstylist working with client

Interpersonal skills are a must

Both hairdressers and stylists, like makeup artists, will be working with clients regularly. In order to carry out your professional duties in either career, you need to have strong interpersonal skills! When the client sits in your chair for an extended period of time, it would be downright awkward not having polite conversation. Although some clients will treat their professional as a therapist and you won’t talk much, other times you may have an introverted client. If you’re a hair professional who can make light conversation with even the shyest of clients, you’ll have a long line of loyal clients in no time!

The Differences

While both hair professionals possess some of the same skills and knowledge, they don’t do the same job.


Hairdressers: You’ll learn about cutting hair, chemical treatments, and most permanent hair extensions. After processing and cutting hair, they can continue to style the hair or a hairstylist could work on the hair as well.

Hairstylists: You’ll learn heat styling to create curls, volume and waves. You’ll also learn to combine techniques and create special-occasion updos, period looks, and styles for the red carpet.

Professional training

When deciding the career that’s right for you, you need to consider the training requirements for each. Hair dressing may require a cosmetology license in your country or state. That’s because you exact “permanent” changes for a client’s hair structure. Going beyond conditioning treatments, you’ll also learn to cut, perm, and dye hair. The last two procedures are chemical treatments. Hairdressers need to have specialized training and work with specialized equipment to perform these procedures—something hairstylists aren’t licensed to do.

If cutting and coloring hair doesn’t exactly interest you, look into hair styling. Temporary hair styling for special events falls into this category. Hair styling is not regulated in many places because harsh chemicals are not used in styling and the hair isn’t cut. For example, if a client wants a bob, a hairdresser would cut a bob for them, whereas a hair stylist would create the illusion of a bob using styling techniques.

hairstylist at wedding

Where you can work

Hairdressers mostly work in salons and spas. While many choose to do freelance on the side, they mostly focus on styling outside of the salon environment. This is because their equipment such as scissors, dye, bleach, and other chemical products are stocked by a salon. The breadth of their services can only be performed with a wide range of products as well—and they’re not often portable!

Many hair stylists work mobile at events, for example. Their kit is much more on-the-go-ready. Additionally, hair styling goes hand in hand with makeup artistry! Hair styling is a great skill for MUAs who want to offer more services. Especially when offering full bridal and wedding party services, they stand to make a lot of money!

So, which one is for you?

If you’re considering a career in the beauty industry, hair dressing or styling might be for you! Many differences exist between them both, but both require serious technical skill and creativity.

If you’re looking to break into the industry ASAP, a career in hair styling might be your best bet. Hair dressing requires a cosmetology license. This often means you’ll study for 1-2 years at a cosmetology school. On top of learning about makeup, skincare, and nail care—cosmetology goes deeper into other beauty practices you may not have any interest in.

As a hairdresser, you’ll work with clients to find a balance of what they want and what may look best for them. It takes lots of hard work and study to complete all the different treatments for your clients. If you’re detail-oriented and want to help clients look their best longer-term, becoming a hairdresser would be a great career choice for you!

Hair styling has its challenges, too! You’ll need plenty of creativity in order to style hair you won’t be fundamentally altering. Therefore, you’re not only working with what will look best on them, but also what will work with their current haircut! There are many unique careers for professional hairstylists—the world’s your oyster!

hairstylist with tools

It’s important to know that whichever profession you first choose that you’re not stuck forever. The beauty industry demands its professionals to evolve. You may decide to be a hairdresser now but find passion in doing wedding hair and makeup. Or, it can be quite the opposite. You may start as a stylist and eventually want to learn the art of balayage. Whichever career you choose, you’re in for a highly rewarding career!

Which career are you most interested in? Let us know!

Check out this article to see if an online hair styling course is right for you!

Author Catherine Hammond

More posts by Catherine Hammond

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