Salon Etiquette for Stylists, Nail Technicians, and Estheticians


Whether you’re a new stylist learning how to behave professionally in a salon environment, or an established professional looking for a refresher course, this article will help you understand what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable in the salon.
Remember at all times, you are a professional and this is your workplace.
Salons tend to be very social in nature, and this rule is easy to forget.
Dress appropriately and professionally. That’s not saying that you can’t be fashionable, just keep it classy. Short skirts, shorts, and shirts that expose your cleavage or midsection are not appropriate. Tank tops are unprofessional and unsanitary.

Nobody wants your armpits in their face while you’re washing or cutting their hair.

Shoes should be closed-toed and comfortable. Closed-toed shoes are often required on the cutting floors of most salons, since you work with sharp objects that can be dropped.
Another reason for closed-toed shoes has to do with hair splinters. A “hair splinter” is exactly what it sounds like. A sharp piece of cut hair that embeds itself into your skin like a splinter. These splinters are full of bacteria and cause staph infections if not removed in a timely manner.
Keep your workstation clean. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many salon employees let their work spaces become a complete mess. If you cut hair, sweep the floor before you blow dry the client so the client doesn’t have to walk through wet, slippery hair on her way out the door. After you use a product, return it. Don’t let your product accumulate on your station. If you’re a nail technician, dispose of dirty files, put dirty towels into the hamper, and wipe up dust and filings before polishing. If you’re an esthetician, place all of your dirty bowls, towels, and implements away before letting the client rise from the bed.
Keep the conversation focused on the client. Keep the content of the conversation clean. Do not ask overly personal questions or inappropriate questions. Keep in mind that everyone in the salon can hear and see everything that you are saying and doing. Nobody wants to hear about your problems–least of all your clients.
You are not your client’s friend. Don’t do “favors” for clients or ask for favors from them. Keep your relationship with your client professional. You are not their friend. Ever. Don’t put yourself in a position where you owe them anything. (For more on this, read my post: Why Favors Don’t Pay and Clients Can’t be Friends.)
Set a schedule and stick to it, regardless of whether or not you’re busy. Again, this is a job. Just like any other job, you should adhere to a set schedule. Just because your chair is empty doesn’t mean you get to leave. Your clients will learn your schedule and expect you to be there.

Maximize your income by being available.

Do not steal clients. Attempting to lure clients away from other employees, either by blatantly offering them lower rates and/or better service or by underhanded tactics such as degrading the work of the other employee should never be done in the workplace. If you’re caught, you could be terminated. The majority of salons will not tolerate that behavior.
Do not criticize anyone else’s work. It doesn’t matter how chopped up the haircut is, how lifted the acrylics are, or how bad the scarring is from the last esthetician’s attempt at extractions. Never speak badly of another professional’s work. Let the client complain. You can sympathize, but never remark on the work of others.
Remain courteous and professional at all times, regardless of whether a client is watching.

Always behave the way you would if a client were in the room.

If you wouldn’t talk about inappropriate subjects in front of a client, don’t do it in the back room.
Don’t talk about other clients, ever. If you spend any portion of an appointment talking badly about another client, your client will wonder if you speak about them in the same manner. You don’t want to give any clients the impression that they may be spoken negatively about the second they walk out the door.
Always look busy, even when you aren’t. Wash towels, sweep hair, wipe down mirrors, clean implements. There are tons of things you can do to keep yourself looking busy.
Do not use profanity at work. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
Be honest. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Clients appreciate honesty. If you’re not confident performing a particular service, let them know and refer them to someone who is skilled in that area.

It is infinitely better to admit your shortcomings than it is to completely botch a service.

No professional can afford to have a disgruntled client trashing them to anyone who will listen. You don’t want to be the target of anyone’s online smear campaign either. With services, you can’t “fake it until you make it.” Never be afraid to ask for a second opinion from a more experienced professional. Refuse to perform complicated services you’re not confident in.

Don’t get caught up in the drama. The best way to keep people from gossiping about you is to keep your personal life personal and be pleasant all the time, regardless of how others treat you. Don’t let someone else’s bad day affect you in a way that causes you to react negatively.

Can you think of any etiquette guidelines I’ve missed? Add them in the comments!

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Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of the book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.


  1. I work in a pet grooming salon, I make 60% commission, I don’t get paid hourly, I do get a pay check, didn’t sign any type of contract or agreement, I don’t own the shop..
    My question is
    Can the owners require me to stay or come in early if I don’t have any appts?
    I don’t pay more they rent either so I am not a independent contractor.
    Thank you

  2. On your paychecks, are taxes taken out and matched by your employer? If so, then yes, they can ask you to stay without clients. However, they have to offer you compensation for being “engaged to wait.” It has to at least meet minimum wage. If not, you actually are an independent contractor and what they’re doing is illegal.

    These posts should help you.
    “Engaged to Wait”
    “Know Your Rights”

  3. I enjoyed your article and wanted to get your opinion on something that wasn’t mentioned. Some of our stylists insist on washing their own hair standing up,bent over the shampoo sinks that are located in the middle of the salon in full view of every singl person in the salon. Is it just my own pet peeve or do you agree that rhis is completely unprofessional. We have seen this and immediately offer to shampoo them. They see nothinh wrong with this. An I crazy? Thank you

    • You aren’t crazy. It’s completely unprofessional. I wouldn’t EVER allow that tacky, trashy behavior. They need to behave like adult professionals in a workplace, not teenagers hanging out at an after school social club.

  4. I work in a “high end” salon as an Esthetician. The owners allow hair stylists to do waxing and lash/brow tinting services in their chairs and at the shampoo bowls. I have tried explaining if they want to maintain the high end feel of the salon, these services should be done in an esthetics room? What are your thoughts?

    • ABSOLUTELY. I’ve seen the same practice at mom and pop shops. That is so tacky. It also instantly drops the client’s perception of service value. If that treatment were being performed in private on a nice esthetics table, the service value (and the client’s perception of the service overall) would jump considerably.

  5. Two things that have not been mationed. One is that when the person who washes the hair has long nails. There have been so many instances that I’ve had some one scratch my scalp, and some of them are so rough while washing the hair.

    Another one that really got me upset was the last hair cut I got. The hairdresses was talking on her cell phone while she was cutting my hair. And this salon has a TV, and she actually stopped to watch something on TV and commented about it to her co-worker. Needless to say, I was not happy with the service nor the haircut and I really did not want to leave a tip. $25 wasted.

    • Thanks Anita! I’m going to add those two today. At the time I wrote this, I didn’t think the super obvious things needed to be listed, but that was a foolish assumption to make, since like you, I’ve seen the same basic problems (and worse).

  6. I feel we are a professional with a personal touch. Some things can be done with discretion but talking over clients is a problem. They are paying for your time. Include your client in the conversation or don’t have it. Clients do enjoy some banter between stylists. It show we like each other but talking to a stylist across the room invades the airspace of the people in between. Being aware is the biggest asset for all involved.

    • I think my biggest pet peeve is when stylists yell across the salon. I swear, it’s an instant trigger for me, lol. The conversations that exclude clients is a close second.


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