Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing Exams Part 1: Cosmetology General Theory Exam

Ready to get your cosmetologist license? Time to study for the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing Exam. There are a few different exams depending on which part of cosmetology you intend to become licensed in. The Cosmetologist Combo Exam includes general theory, state regulations exam ad written practical exam. Other combo exams include nail technician, esthetician, eyelash extension, salon manager and school manager. These exams are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. A passing score on all tests is 75%.

Cosmetology General Theory Examination

This Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam consists of 110 questions and you are given 2 hours to complete. Not only is this cosmetology information good to know for taking the licensing exam but it helps while you are building your foundation at a vocational school or on the job. The Cosmetology General Theory Examination focuses on safety and infection control, client consultation and professional conduct, hair, skin and nail anatomy, shampooing, conditioning and scalp care, haircutting, hair coloring, chemical texture services, esthetics, and nails.

Safety and Infection Control

This section of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam consists focuses on creating a safe working environment for the cosmetologist to practice safety and infection control. The environment must be safe, the cosmetologist must use protective coverings including draping, autoclave, apron, smocks, towels and gloves. The water temperature must be appropriate for the client, there should be chemical labeling and proper storage, and a safety data sheet to keep track of all chemicals and potential hazards from fire, reactivity and the environment. The cosmetologist must also have the knowledge of patch testing to make sure clients are not allergic to any substances or chemicals.

A cosmetologist must be familiar with the following safety agencies when taking the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam:

Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) – an agency of the US Department of Labor that helps assure that salons are safe, the working environment is healthy, and men and women are treated properly. OSHA is also responsible for setting and enforcing standards by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficiency and security of food, human and veterinarian drugs, biological products, medical devices, cosmetics and any products that emit radiation.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – work to protect human health and the environment by keeping air, land and water clean.

A cosmetologist must practice smart infection control to prevent infectious diseases and pathogens from spreading including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. The cosmetologist will need to practice proper sanitation and disinfection of the salon, their workstation and utensils. The salon manager must advise cosmetologists about the cleaners and disinfectants that are used and to make sure they are compliant with safety agencies. They must also make sure cross-contamination does not occur.

All exposure to hazardous materials must logged on the safety data sheet to know how to counteract the effects of the materials. The cosmetologist must be aware of proper blood-spill disinfection and disposal guidelines. The salon must also have an approved first aid kit in the event of an incident.

The cosmetologist must be aware of all allergic reaction signs and symptoms in case a client has an adverse reaction. Common symptoms from allergies include hives, rash, swollen airway, skin irritation, difficulty breathing or wheezing, sneezing, runny nose, and red, watery and itchy eyes. The cosmetologist must also know the proper action to take to correct the situation.

Client Consultation and Professional Conduct

A cosmetologist must have proper knowledge of client consultation when greeting, styling, selling products and charging the client. They need to be up-to-date on all record keeping procedures of the salon including software like QuickBooks. They will exhibit and embody professional ethics and morals. The cosmetologist must also tend to their personal hygiene, making sure they are clean, appropriately dressed, and fully groomed when representing the salon.

Hair, Skin and Nail Anatomy

During the hair skin and nail anatomy section of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam, future cosmetologists will be tested on the structure and physiology of the hair and scalp. Hair is made up of keratin. The hair follicle anchors each hair into the skin.

Hair and Scalp Structure and Physiology

Hair Textures include kinky, curly, wavy or straight. Hair volume involves the thickness of the hair including density and diameter. The cosmetologist should consider not over-conditioning fine or thin hair. The skin tone and eyes can be a good indicator of what the tones of the hair should be. The best range of tone for most people is their natural hair color. Those born with black or brown hair will likely have a warmer skin tone like brown, gold or orange. Those born with blonde hair tend to have cooler skin tones including blue, green, pink and blue-based red.

The cosmetologist must also be aware that hair porosity is the hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. Hair elasticity is a measurement of how much the hair will stretch. Wet hair tends to stretch more than dry hair. Human hair has a natural pH balance of 5 and is naturally slightly acidic. Natural hair acidity prevents fungi and bacteria in the hair and scalp while keeping the cuticle closed and healthy. Those with curly hair have a slightly open cuticle already and should use shampoo that is slightly acidic to return the hair to a healthy pH.

Hair Growth Phases

Hair grows in phases and hair grows at different rates in different people. The first stage of hair growth is Anagen or the growth phase. Hair can be in this phase for years and most hair is growing in this phase. The transitional phase (Catagen) happens within a few weeks whereas the hair growth slows, and the follicle shrinks. The resting phase (Telogen) is when the hair stops growing, and old hair detaches from the hair follicle.

Skin structure

The skin wraps around the body and offers a protective layer for the body. The skin is made up of three layers. The first layer is the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin. The epidermis provides a waterproof and airtight barrier. The dermis is beneath the epidermis and contains tough connective tissue, hair follicles and sweat glands. The deepest layer of skin is the hypodermis. The hypodermis is made up of fat and connective tissue.

Nail Structure

Nails help humans function through digging, climbing, scratching or grabbing. The nail also acts as protection to the fingers and toes. Nails are continuously growing and can slow due to poor circulation or aging. The nail is divided into six parts including the root, nail bed, nail plate, eponychium, paronychium and hyponychium.

  • Nail Root – lies beneath the skin, underneath the nail and extends into the finger.
  • Nail Bed – contains blood vessels, nerves, and melanocytes that produce melanin. If the nail doesn’t grow properly, it may split or develop ridges.
  • Nail Plate – the actual fingernail that is made of keratin.
  • Eponychium – also known as the cuticle. The cuticle sits between the skin of the finger and the nail plate.
  • Perionychium – the skin that overlaps on to the sides of the nail plate. This can be the place where a hangnail, ingrown nail, or skin infection occurs.
  • Hyponychium – the area between the free edge of the nail plate and the skin of the fingertip. This part of the nail provides a waterproof barrier.

A cosmetologist needs to identify disorders and diseases on their client’s skin, hair, scalp and nails. The Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam tests students on these disorders and diseases. Staying abreast of the signs and symptoms of many disorders and diseases will allow the cosmetologist to further assist their clients to keep their skin, hair, scalp and nails healthy.

Skin Disorders and Diseases

A cosmetologist may want to recommend a specific styling product or shampoo for those with skin disorders that include rash, itchy skin, skin bumps, skin fungus, skin infections, and skin tags. Some specific skin disorders a cosmetologist must recognize and recommend medical treatment include acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and skin cancer.

  • Acne – inflamed or infected glands of the skin normally on the face but also scalp and other parts of the body.
  • Eczema – rough and inflamed patches of skin, with blisters that cause itching and bleeding.
  • Psoriasis – a skin disease that causes red, itchy, scaly patches. Caused by an overactive production of skin cells that reach the surface and die.
  • Skin Cancer – the growth of abnormal skin cells, occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers genetic defects.

Hair Disorders and Diseases

Hair disorders can be caused by certain drugs, diseases, autoimmunity, iron deficiency, stress, scalp radiation, bacterial infections, and the over processing of the hair. A common hair disorder is alopecia or the tinning of the hair. Hirsutism involves excessive male pattern hair growth in women, and hair shaft disorders typically caused by genetics. Hair shaft disorders and inflammation can also be caused during the styling process by coloring, permanent waves or excessive heating.

Scalp Disorders and Diseases

The scalp can easily become itchy or flaky through genetics or how the hair is processed. Some common scalp disorders include dandruff and folliculitis.

  • Dandruff – a build-up of shedding dead skin. It can be managed by using medicated shampoo. A more severe case of dandruff is called seborrheic dermatitis causing a reddening of the scalp and a greasy look to the hair.
  • Folliculitis – an infection of the hair follicle usually caused by bacteria. The follicles may also be irritated by shaving, makeup or clothing.

Nails Disorders and Diseases

Most nail infections are fungal, bacterial or viral. Some types of nail disorders and diseases include inflammation of the nail folds, ingrown nail, deformation of the nail, a thickening and increase in curvature of the nail, an infection of the nail, brittle nails, a separation and falling off of a nail, or infection of the nail. A cosmetologist will want to advise medical treatment from a pediatrist for those nail disorders and diseases with abnormally looking nails.

Shampooing, Conditioning and Scalp Care

The cosmetologist will need to prepare for the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam an understanding of what shampoo and conditioner does, and the different types and procedures to wash hair. Shampoo is used to remove the unwanted build-up of dirt and oil in the hair. A cosmetologist will want to apply shampoo to wet hair, massaging the shampoo into the hair and then rinsing it out. This process may be repeated if necessary. The use of conditioners is used to smooth down the dull, rough and out of condition look of the hair making it smooth and manageable. The scalp can be oily, dry or normal. Many medicated shampoos can bring the scalp condition back to normal.


This section of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam consists of hairstyling, which can be done with hairdressing appliances or freehand. Different appliances for hairstyling include thermal irons, marcel irons, hot rollers, electric hot combs, hair dryers, and pressing combs. Freehand hair styling can be done to create unique styles including braided hair, chignon, updos, French twists, pigtails, and ponytails.

Thermal Irons and/or Marcel Irons

When using thermal irons make sure they are clean. The cosmetologists should also make sure to not over heat. Before using the thermal iron, the cosmetologist should make sure to test the temperature of the iron on a white cloth. Also, do not use metal combs in conjunction with the thermal iron.

Hot Rollers

Hot rollers are a technique to create curls, bouncy waves and ringlets in straight hair. Hot rollers can also give the hair more volume and lift.

Electric Hot Combs

Electric hot combs are used to create straighter hair. Electric hot combs can be used on brittle hair that is easily damaged by too much heat. The comb separates the hair and smooths it without damaging the hair. It also detangles the hair as it passes through to create a natural, voluminous hair style.

Hair Dryers

When using a blow dryer to dry the hair do not hold it too close to the hair or scalp as it may burn the client’s scalp. There are a few different styling products used to style hair in conjunction with a blow dryer. Mousse is used to create an airy style to the hair, gel gives the hair a thickened style, volumizers add volume, pomade is used to make hair easy to mold and hair spray helps hold a hair style in place.

Pressing Combs

Pressing combs are used to temporarily straighten overly curly hair. The cosmetologist should make sure to test the temperature of the pressing comb before beginning service with a white cloth. Before hair pressing the cosmetologist should consider the condition of the hair and scalp. The cosmetologist will want to be familiar with the client’s hair and whether it has a wave pattern. Consider the length of the hair, its elasticity, and the condition of the hair color. If a scalp condition does exist, pressing hair is not recommended.

Freehand Techniques

The cosmetologist can create styles without hair care products or hair appliances. They can braid the hair, create chignon, updo, French twist, ponytails or pigtails.

  • Braiding – a hair style formed by interlacing three or more strands of hair. There are many different braided hair styles including a fishtail braid, French braid, the upside-down braid, the milkmaid braid and the four-strand braid.
  • Chignon – a hair style formed by pinning the hair into a knot at the nape of the neck or at the back of the head.
  • Updo – hairstyle where the hair is twisted and pulled up.
  • French Twist – the hair is twisted behind the head into a long bun.
  • Ponytail – long hair that is pulled into one or more sections held by a rubber-band or ribbon.
  • Pigtails – hair parted into two sections with a ribbon creating two ponytails.


Scissors are the basic tool that a cosmetologist will use to cut hair. They are sharp and made to deliver a clean cut without folding or bending the hair. When haircutting, the cosmetologist will need to understand the basics of sectioning hair, using a razor, using clippers and using scissors or shears. The cosmetologist can use these hair utensils to thin, slither, layer, shingle, blunt cut, create a graduated look or overdirected hair.

Thinning – the cosmetologist will comb the hair from root to the tip to smoothen and straighten. They will hold the section of hair in between their pointer and index finger with about 2 inches between the fingers. Then they point the shears into the 2 inches of hair. The hair can be cut straight or at an angle.

Slither – the hair is slithered by taking the scissors and holding them open slightly then gliding the scissors along the length of the hair away from the scalp. Slithering is used on long hair to remove bulk and make the hair hang smoothly.

Layer – a cutting technique used to create hair with varying lengths. Layers cascade from the shortest piece on top to the longest length of the hair.

Shingle – the cosmetologist will cut the hair close to the scalp at the nape of the neck, leaving the hair gradually longer as they go higher.

Blunt Cut – the scissors cut straight across, leaving a very clean and precise edge to the shape of the hair.

Graduated – weight is built up within the shape. It will create a gradual progression of lengths from short to longer.

Overdirecting – cutting technique where the hair is lifted and cut over the head to create extra volume in the hair.

Hair Coloring

This section of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam consists hair coloring. Many cosmetologists will need to become familiar with the selection, preparation and application of many different types of hair coloring products and techniques. Before a client’s hair is colored, the cosmetologist should test the skin and patch of hair to ensure the desired effect before hair coloring is applied across the whole scalp and head of hair.

Color Theory

All cosmetologist must become familiar with primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Primary colors include yellow, red and blue. Secondary colors are created by mixing the primary colors into orange, green and violet. A cosmetologist will use a color wheel to identify complimentary colors. The color wheel can be used to neutralize color left by bleaching or incorrectly coloring a client’s hair. Adding green can neutralize unwanted redness, blue can be added to remove orange shades, and violet can be added to neutralize yellow left in blonde hair. Warm color tones fall into the orange and red half of the color wheel, whereas cooler color tones fall into the blues and greens half of the color wheel. Hair color is identified by level, tone and intensity.

  • Level – the degree of lightness or darkness
  • Tone – warm or cool based on the section of the color wheel
  • Intensity – the brightness or vividness of a color; the strength of the tone.

Products and Product Chemistry

People have been coloring their hair with plants and minerals for centuries. Certain natural agents contain pigments or bleaching agents. Natural pigments work by coating the hair shaft with color. Temporary hair color may deposit acidic dyes onto the outside of the hair shaft. Bleach is used to lighten hair. The bleach reacts with the hair’s melanin to remove the color through a chemical reaction. To change the hair color permanently, the color must penetrate the cuticle of the hair shaft. Ammonia is used to open the cuticle allowing the hair color to penetrate the cortex of the hair.

Application Procedures

Before applying hair color, the cosmetologist will pre-wash and dry the hair with a towel. They will then making triangle sections in the hair. The cosmetologist will apply the hair color to the full section and place the section around the top of the head. They will move from section to section coloring the hair and work all the way down the hair until completely colored. Other methods of hair coloring use a brush or toothed comb.

Skin Sensitivity Test / Strand Test

Strand tests are performed to understand how sensitive the skin is to hair dyes and other chemicals that are used to color and lighten hair. Take a strand of hair and test the dye or chemical first before applying to the entire head of hair to see how it reacts and whether it creates the desired effect.

Color Techniques

There are a few different ways to color or lighten hair. A cosmetologist can use temporary hair color rinses or gels, semi-permanent color that causes less damage to the hair or permanent color that penetrates the cortex of the scalp to change the color of a client’s hair.

Temporary Color – available in many forms including rinses, shampoos, gels, sprays and foams. Temporary coloring products coat the outside of the hair shaft with color that washes out during shampooing.

Semi-Permanent Color – doesn’t use developer, hydrogen peroxide or ammonia and causes less damage to the hair. Semi-permanent color is usually washed out after 4-5 shampoos.

Permanent Color – penetrates the cortex of the hair with the help of ammonia that opens up the cuticle layer of the scalp.

Hair Lightener – a single-action tinting or tone of the hair to produce lighter looking hair.

Hair Special Effects – the use of color dyes, bleach and lighteners to create a desired effect in the hair including highlighting, frosting, streaking, hair painting, balayage, and tipping.

  • Highlighting – a natural way to color the hair with shades that complement the current hair color.
  • Frosting – free-hand lightening the tips of the hair with bleach or a hair lightener.
  • Streaking – visible and pronounced highlights in the hair used to illuminate the hair in contrast with its base color.
  • Hair Painting – hair painted free-hand in sections separated both on the top and bottom of the strand.
  • Balayage – similar to hair painting, however only the surface of the strand is painted creating a built-in lowlight look.
  • Tipping – the use of dye to color the tips of the hair.

Perform Root Retouch – the cosmetologist will use the same brand and color of hair dye to touch up the roots. A brush is used to apply the color directly to the roots.

Chemical Texture Services

This section of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam consists of chemical texture services. These services include permanent waving of the hair and relaxing hair with chemicals to straighten the hair.

Permanent Waving

Permanent waving causes a chemical change that alters the natural wave pattern of the hair. Hair can be damaged during a permanent waving process. The cosmetologist can cause damage to the hair, and cause hair loss if not aware of proper permanent waving techniques. Excessive brushing of the hair before a permanent wave can cause scalp irritation. Mild shampoo should be applied to the hair before a permanent wave for easy manipulation of the hair. Most perms usually last about 6 months.

For the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam a student needs to know about permanent waving products and product chemistry. Hair and scalp preparation for permanent waving. Application, processing and removing products. Techniques of wrapping hair with rods and other tools.

Relaxing and Chemical Straightening

A hair relaxer is a type of lotion or cream used by people with very curly hair to straighten the hair through chemical relaxing.

For the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam a student needs to know straightening products and product chemistry. Hair and scalp preparation for chemical straightening. Application, processing and removing products.


This section of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam consists esthetics. Esthetics involves the relationship between the senses and beauty. Estheticians are trained in skin wellness and perform basic facials, make up application and hair removal.

Basic Facials

A facial cleans, exfoliates, rejuvenate and nourishes the skin. It also promotes a clear, well-hydrated complexion. The basic facial includes skin analysis, products and product chemistry, procedures and massage manipulations. During the skin analysis, a cosmetologist or esthetician covers the client’s eyes and looks at the skin under a mag lamp. This will help them determine skin type, skin condition and the best treatment for the client. The different products at the cosmetologist’s disposal include cleansers, exfoliators, moisturizers, eye treatments, skin treatments, sun care and serums.

The cosmetologist that is giving the facial must first disinfect their hands Before skin analysis under a mag lamp, the cosmetologist will cleanse away any make-up or dirt residue. At the beginning of the facial, the cosmetologist will use an exfoliating cleanser on the face. Then, they will massage the client’s face with cream or oil. Next, the pores of the face are steamed with a warm towel wrapped around the client’s face. After the pores are open, the cosmetologist will apply a mineral-rich mud mask to clean and strengthen the pores. After a set amount of time, it is time to remove the mud mask gently with a hand towel. Once the mask is removed, the cosmetologist will apply a skin toner to close the pores. Finally, moisturizers can be applied to the skin with a spray of water to hydrate the skin.

Make-up Application

Proper make-up application involves procedures, tools and implements. Make-up applications start with a moisturizer to prep the skin. Different types of moisturizers include face mists, serums, lotions, creams and oils. The next step to apply make-up is to add a primer to make the make-up application last longer. Now it is time for the liquid foundation to create the perfect shade. Concealer is added to the face in liquid or stick form. The next step is the application of foundation powder to give the face a good complexion. Bronzer is used to give the face a golden tan. Blush gives the cheeks a flushed look. Highlighter is applied in the form of liquids, creams and powders. Then, eyeshadow is applied to the eye lid. Eyeliner is applied to accentuate the eyes. Mascara is applied to make the eyes look brighter. Lip gloss helps protect the lips from being chapped and to moisturize the lips. Finally, a setting spray or setting powder is used to help the makeup last all day.

The basic make-up tools that every woman needs include face brushes to apply foundation, concealer, powders and blush. Eye brushes for eyebrows, eyeshadow, blending and creasing. Lip brushes to apply lipstick or lip gloss. Other make-up tools include eyelash curlers, sponges, Q-Tips, and brow comb.

Hair Removal

Hair removal is done using waxing and tweezing procedure. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, to wax away hair, first wash and dry the skin. Next, apply a layer of hair removal wax in the direction of the hair’s growth. Place a smooth cloth strip on top of the wax. Then, remove the strip quickly in the direction of hair growth, while the other hand keeps the skin flat. The skin can be soothed with a cold pack for the pain. Avoid hot baths or showers, wear loose clothes and apply moisture. Apply a moisturizer that is oil-free or non-comedogenic.

Hair can be removed by tweezers and stay away for up to 6 weeks. When tweezed the hair is removed at the follicle. No prep work is needed. Pain levels depend on the part of the face tweezed. Eyebrows can be painless whereas hair above the lip can be very painful to pluck. Try to pluck hairs after a warm shower or by applying a warm compress to minimize pain.


This section of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing: Cosmetology General Theory Exam consists of the cosmetic beauty treatment for fingernails and toenails. A standard manicure or pedicure includes filling and shaping the nails and coating them with nail polish. A manicure or pedicure also include the soaking and moisturizing of the hands and feet.

Manicure and Pedicure Procedures

To repair split or damaged fingernails trimmed away the abnormal nails, then fill the nail and cover the nail. To file fingernails to desired shape, file the nail from the side to the center in one direction, lifting the file away from the nail, and returning to the starting point where the skin and nail connect. To soften or round the corners, shape by gently filing edges at a slight angle.

A plain manicure or pedicure cuts the nails, grooms them and then polishes the nails.  An oil manicure or pedicure gives relief to the nails and dries the cuticles. The oil can improve the hands and feet by leaving the skin soft and pliable.

Artificial Nail Enhancement

The cosmetologist should select and apply artificial nail tips (nail extensions) by pushing back the cuticles. Then the cosmetologist buffs the natural nail lightly, so it doesn’t have any shine or moisture. They then choose an appropriate size of nail tip, apply glue on the hollow part of the tip, and apply to the nails.

Sculptured nails are built up and shaped around a form by the cosmetologist. A basic acrylic base is applied to keep the nail attached to the finger and the natural nail. The tip is built up to the specified shape using gel or acrylic powder, porcelain and/or chemicals.

To wrap nails the cosmetologist will apply a sheer base coat to all ten nails and wait until they are dry. Next, they choose the wrap that best fits the client’s nail shape. The cosmetologist peels off the nail wrap and lines it up the rounded edge with the cuticle. Starting at the cuticle, they press down and stretch the wrap toward the tip of the nail, removing all bubbles or ridges. Then, the cosmetologist uses a nail file to buff away any excess material. Finally, they add a top coat to the nail wraps, so they last longer.

Ready to study for the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology Licensing Exam? Need to get your undergraduate certificate in cosmetology first? At Minnesota School of Cosmetology, we are dedicated to helping our Cosmetology program students develop a solid foundation and a flair for style through hands-on training in basic and advanced industry techniques. You will learn how to cut, color and style hair, give manicures and pedicures, provide spa treatments and perform various skin care techniques from industry-experienced instructors in a professional salon setting. We keep our class sizes small to make sure you get the individualized instruction you need and attention you deserve. You will graduate with everything you need to be a versatile artist in an exciting industry, including a cosmetology diploma from a respected college.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a hairstylist and starting a rewarding career in the beauty industry.

Find out what Minnesota School of Cosmetology can do for you

10-month Cosmetology Diploma |

5-Month Massage Therapy Diploma |

5-Month Esthiology Diploma


By checking the box below, you are giving your express written consent for Minnesota School of Cosmetology to contact you regarding our programs and services using email, telephone, or text - including our use of automated technology for calls and periodic texts to any wireless number you provide. Message and data rates may apply. This consent is not required to purchase goods/services and you may always call us directly at 877-541-8777.

Yes, you may send texts to this number