The term esthetician refers to a person whose specialty is beautifying the skin. Estheticians (also spelled aestheticians) do not provide medical care; instead, they perform cosmetic skin treatments, such as facials, superficial chemical peels, body treatments, and waxing.

In part because of aging baby boomers, many of whom are seeking non-invasive treatments to look more youthful, there are more than 60,000 estheticians in the U.S. The demand for them is increasing faster than average.

What Is An Esthetician?

Skincare therapists specialize in cosmetic treatments for the skin. A visit to an esthetician will help you if you have questions about your skin type, or if you have trouble deciding which skincare products to buy.

Even though the term “medical aesthetics” is commonly used, esthetics is not a medical practice, and estheticians are not allowed to diagnose skin conditions or prescribe medications outside of cosmetic products.


Typically, aestheticians can only perform treatments on the superficial layers of the skin. Injections such as Botox and facial fillers are not allowed, nor can deep chemical peels be performed. Invasive procedures must be performed by a licensed medical professional, such as a dermatologist.

If you have a rash, your esthetician cannot tell you what it is or how to treat it. She cannot also prescribe medications. In the event that your skin problem has already been diagnosed, your esthetician can recommend skin care products that are appropriate for you.

The majority of estheticians work at salons, day spas, or skin spas. The salon isn’t the only place where you can find an esthetician. Estheticians sometimes work closely with dermatologists, either in the dermatology office or through referrals. They may even be on staff at your dermatologist’s office. They can also work in medical practices, providing treatments that complement those of your dermatologist.

What Does An Esthetician Do?

Despite the fact that many estheticians specialize in certain areas, and every spa will offer different services, there are some basic treatments estheticians offer.

Some of the services provided by estheticians include:

  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical peels
  • Laser resurfacing
  • Laser skin rejuvenation
  • Light therapy
  • Thermage
  • Waxing/threading/chemical hair removal
  • Facials
  • Face and body masks and wraps
  • Makeup application
  • Manual or mechanical extraction
  • Pore cleansing
  • Body scrubs (salt and sugar scrubs) and other types of exfoliation
  • Aromatherapy
  • Moisturizing treatments
  • Acne treatments
  • Scalp massage and treatments


A facial is an esthetician’s signature treatment. Basic facial treatments include deep cleansing, facial steam, exfoliating treatment, mask, and moisturizer or serum. Also available are facial massages, arm and shoulder massages, and the application of specialty products. Facials are tailored to the needs and preferences of your skin. Every esthetician uses a different technique.


Almost all facials include extractions as well. Your esthetician manually removes non-inflamed breakouts like blackheads and removes blockages of dead skin cells and oil from your pores. The result is an immediate improvement in the appearance and feel of the skin and can help prevent inflamed blemishes from forming in the future.1

Acne Treatments

An esthetician can help clear acne breakouts through regular treatments. Mild acne and blackheads can often be treated with exfoliating procedures, extractions, and over-the-counter acne products. In contrast, moderate to severe acne should really be treated by a dermatologist. You can still use the skills of an esthetician for treatments that work along with prescription acne medications. Additionally, she can help you choose skincare products that combat acne treatment side effects like extra dry skin (as long as your healthcare provider approves).


One of the most popular skin treatments offered by some estheticians is microdermabrasion. A treatment involves passing superfine crystals (or a diamond-tipped wand) over the skin, gently removing dead cells. After a series of treatments, the skin feels softer and fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and enlarged pores improve.

Superficial Chemical Peels (AKA “Lunchtime Peels”)

Some of the more popular treatments offered by estheticians are superficial chemical peels. During a peel, alpha hydroxy acids (usually glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid) is used to exfoliate the skin and give it a healthy glow. These peels can have anti-aging benefits.2 They’re often called lunchtime peels since there is no downtime afterward. They can be done during your lunch hour, and you can return to work immediately.

Body Wraps, Masks, and Scrubs

A cosmetician does not just work on the face; they also treat the skin of the body as a whole. You can exfoliate your skin from head to toe with salt glows or sugar scrubs. Your skin can be softened and brightened with clay body masks and seaweed body wraps. In addition to making your skin soft and smooth, these treatments are incredibly relaxing as well. Most aestheticians offer a variety of body treatments on their menus.

Waxing and Hair Removal

An esthetician can remove unwanted hair with waxing, tweezing, threading, and laser hair removal. Bikini waxes and Brazilian waxes (removal of all pubic hair) are quite common, probably second only to eyebrow shaping. An esthetician can remove hair from just about anywhere, so don’t be surprised if you ask her to remove hair from “down there.”. Back and chest waxing are the most popular for men. A lot of hair removal clinics specialize in this service.

Airbrush Tanning

Estheticians do not always offer this service, but it has become more popular since the public became aware of the dangers of tanning. Golden glows are a safer alternative to tanning. The esthetician sprays your skin with a fine mist of sunless tanning product. As soon as it dries, you’ll have a convincing “tan” that lasts for two weeks.

Makeup Application

Some estheticians offer makeup applications, too, for bridal makeup or a special look for prom. As estheticians work with their own makeup kit, you don’t need to bring your own. If you’re interested in this service, book early since good makeup artists are in high demand, especially during the busy summer and spring months.

Where Do Estheticians Work?

The Associated Skin Care Professionals recognize that the majority of estheticians provide skin care services in a spa, salon, or private practice setting, while the remaining generally provide more “health-care oriented” services and therefore work in clinical settings alongside medical doctors.

The field of esthetics has also grown rapidly with the rapid growth of luxury destination spas across the U.S. Each year, there are more than 143 million spa visits in the U.S., the majority of which are at day spas.

There are also plenty of opportunities for freelance estheticians to work in the film, music, theater, and fashion industries, and some specialize in a particular area of esthetics, such as laser procedures, hair removal, or makeup.

Estheticians often work in dedicated spas for esthetics in addition to day spas and salons. The following are just a few examples of places you might find an esthetician:

  • Spas
  • Salons
  • Freelancing
  • TV/Movie Sets
  • Editorial Sets
  • Med Spas
  • Cruise Ships
  • Resorts
  • Dermatologist or plastic surgeon offices
  • Retail or educational environments

What Estheticians Cannot Do?

Although the term “medical esthetics” is often thrown around, esthetics is not a medical practice, and estheticians cannot diagnose, prescribe, or treat skin conditions or diseases. Licensed medical professionals, such as dermatologists, are responsible for providing medical skin care services.

While some aestheticians work in the offices of medical practitioners, such as dermatologists and plastic surgeons, their expertise is confined to cosmetic skin care, while invasive procedures are always left to medical professionals who specialize in skin disorders.

Patients in these medical settings often receive complementary therapies and support services from these professionals. Estheticians, however, are trained to recognize a number of medical conditions affecting the skin and may refer their clients to a medical professional in these cases.

How to Become a Licensed Esthetician?

In order to become a licensed esthetician, you’ll have to:

  • Completing an esthetician training program or an apprenticeship (allowable in some states).
  • Provide proof of training/apprenticeship hours to your state board.
  • All necessary exams should be taken and passed.
  • You must pay a license fee.

Esthetician School

Enrolling in and completing a cosmetology program is the first step toward becoming an esthetician. The curriculum varies by school and location, but you must prepare for all licensure examinations in your state and fulfill your state’s training hour requirements. Find out about cosmetology schools in your area that offer esthetician programs, including cost, accreditation, financial aid, exam prep, and training hours, at the Beauty Schools Directory esthetician hub.

Training Hour Requirements

A cosmetology program tracks the amount of time you spend training to become an esthetician. The hours you spend studying will prepare you not only to meet your state’s licensure requirements but also to perform competently and confidently as an esthetician within the field.

You may be required to train for a different number of hours depending on your state. Oregon, for example, requires just 250 hours of training, while states like Georgia won’t grant a license to someone with fewer than 1,000 hours. Generally, most states require aspiring estheticians to complete 600 hours of training. It can also take different amounts of time to complete the required hours depending on whether you train full-time or part-time.

Required Exams

Passing the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) exam will be your final hurdle on the path to becoming a licensed esthetician. There are two parts: the hands-on, or practical, exam and the written, or theory exam. Most states require you to take both parts. Most states that do not require NIC testing administer similar tests on their own.

A close eye is kept on the tests. There are strict and specific rules regarding prohibited items, necessary documentation, required supplies, how to use those supplies, and even where you must be during certain parts of the test. All guidelines, deadlines, rules, and regulations that govern testing must be followed; these are not negotiable. Be aware of them and follow them.

NIC’s written exam lasts 90 minutes, is conducted on a computer, and consists of two sections. This test accounts for 55% of your grade in the Scientific Concepts section. Microbiology, infection control, and cells and tissues are some of the topics addressed. You’ll learn about topics like exfoliation procedures and the use of electrical equipment for skin care in the Skin Care and Services section, which is worth 45% of your grade.

During the NIC practical exam, you will be tested on at least nine critical services and activities. Some of these may be demonstrated on a mannequin or live models, such as setting up and prep for workstations and clients, facial cleansing, exfoliating, makeup, hair removal, and particle microdermabrasion. State fees vary, but the NIC offers practice exams and DVDs for $39 and $30, respectively.


In more than a dozen states, students participating in apprenticeship programs do not have to complete training hours. Apprenticeships are relationships between masters/teachers and apprentices that are mutually beneficial. You will learn as you work under the guidance and supervision of a qualified, licensed esthetician in a real-world setting. It is beneficial to the esthetician to have an extra set of hands without having to hire a new employee.

In many states, students are required to complete a set number of apprenticeship hours, sometimes the same number of training hours and sometimes more. If you’re in Oklahoma, you need 600 training hours or 1,200 apprenticeship hours, while if you’re in Alaska, it’s 350 hours either way. To meet apprenticeship requirements, some states require a length of time rather than a number of hours.

Maryland, for example, requires 600 hours of training or a 12-month apprenticeship to become licensed. A few states require both a minimum number of hours and a minimum length of time: Utah requires 800 apprenticeship hours spread over five months. An apprenticeship does not excuse you from passing all required examinations.

Esthetician Licensing Requirements

Cosmetology focuses on three areas: hair, nails, and skin. In aesthetics, the focus is on the skin, and estheticians are certified experts in cleansing, facials, chemical peels, waxing, massages, and makeup.

If you are interested in pursuing a career as an esthetician, this page will provide you with information about what you can expect on your journey, including program and training options, exams, certifications, and obtaining the all-important esthetician’s license. A license that qualifies you to perform esthetician services in your state is required before you can legally work as an esthetician. The only exception is Connecticut, which does not have laws regulating this type of work.

In every other state, a license is your ticket for a career in this field, although licensure requirements – such as the specific exams you must pass or the training hours you must complete – differ by state. In Alabama, for example, you must complete 1,000 hours of training before you can earn a license, while in Alaska you only need 350 hours.

What Is the Difference Between an Esthetics License and a Cosmetology License?

Your training will lead to an esthetician license, not a full cosmetology license, even though you’ll likely enroll in a cosmetology school for your program. Courses in cosmetology typically cover esthetics, as well as cutting, styling, and chemically treating hair; manicures and pedicures; and hair and skin analysis.

The average cosmetology program runs 1,400-1,600 hours and takes two years to complete. On the other hand, aestheticians are specialists whose training typically takes six months and 650 hours.

Who Sets Esthetician Licensing Requirements?

Except for Connecticut, every state sets its own licensing requirements for estheticians. Training hours, examinations, guidelines for apprenticeships, and testing for licensure can all be included in the standards.

State boards also set standards for how frequently estheticians must renew their licenses, and what they must do to earn those renewals. As with licensure for aspiring estheticians, standards for renewing a license vary from state to state.

Licenses in some states must be renewed annually on the licensee’s birthday, such as Arizona. Other states, like Alaska, require biennial renewal on odd-numbered years. Boards also set standards for out-of-state reciprocity agreements, which have to do with state honoring (or not honoring) licenses that estheticians earn in other states.

There are also requirements set by state boards, such as minimum age requirements – most states set them between 16 and 23. State boards are also responsible for mandating educational requirements. Some states require an eighth-grade education, others two years of high school, and others still a high school diploma.

The Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) provides information on every state board in the country, including mailing addresses, telephone numbers, websites, and email addresses. An overview of each state’s training requirements and renewal requirements is provided. Liability insurance requirements are also discussed.

Continuing Education and Maintaining Licensure

In addition to the laws and regulations regarding esthetics license renewal, each state has its own specific requirements. State laws vary and some states require annual renewal, while others require every other year. States like Indiana require renewal every four years. Other states, like Kansas, only require instructors to renew their licenses. A licensee’s renewal date may fall on their birthday, or it may fall on an established date, like August 31.

As part of their renewal requirements, many states include continuing education in the form of additional training hours. State requirements vary widely, sometimes dramatically. Illinois, for example, requires 10 hours every two years; Georgia only requires half that amount.

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Almost every state charges a fee for license renewal, which varies considerably depending on where you live and work. Some states, like Idaho, charge $20. Other states charge much more. Alaska, for example, charges a $140 fee plus a $220 instructor fee.

To see a state-by-state breakdown of renewal requirements, including training-hour policies, visit the Associated Skin Care Professionals.

Tips for Making Appointments

To get results you’re happy with, and enjoy your time in the treatment bed, you’ll need to find the right esthetician. A good rule of thumb is to ask friends and family for recommendations. Additional advice:

Look for someone knowledgeable in the area that is most important to you (i.e. acne treatment, anti-aging procedures, chemical peels, etc.). Before booking an appointment, ask the esthetician about any specialties she has or which treatments she performs most often. You may not get the best results from an esthetician if she spends most of her time doing body treatments and you’re looking for a little facial rejuvenation.

Get to know someone who feels comfortable around you. Nearly every spa treatment involves some degree of undress. Your esthetician should put your comfort first and foremost, and you should feel comfortable with her.

The salon’s hours should be considered. Are they open during convenient hours for you? You should also ask when the esthetician is available; many are self-employed and set their own hours.

Esthetician And Medical Esthetician: Career Outlook

Consider medical estheticians vs. estheticians so you can get a better idea of what each career path offers and the job duties they may entail.

Medical Esthetician Careers

Cosmetic Medical Esthetician

They often work in hospital or rehabilitation settings to assist patients seeking assistance with their appearance after dealing with illness or trauma. A burn specialist may teach burn victims how to care for delicate skin, help those undergoing chemotherapy find suitable wigs, or provide options to those with facial deformities.

Medical Spa Esthetician

You can improve your clients’ confidence and health by working in these settings. Chemical peels are performed, discolorations are corrected, sun damage is addressed, unwanted tattoos are removed, and varicose veins are cauterized.

Medical Esthetician Training Inspector

After working in direct client services for a while, you may want to shift directions. Working as a training inspector involves visiting medical spas, rehabilitation facilities, and other employers of medical estheticians to ensure all regulations are carefully followed.

Esthetician Careers

Spa Esthetician

These estheticians provide routine skincare services to a variety of clients in salons and spas. A typical day includes facials, massages, skin peels, resurfacing hair removal, and product recommendations.

Beauty Educator

Beauty educators train estheticians and their clients on specific skincare products in salons, spas, and other settings. This is a great job for someone who likes to move around during their workday. They work for skincare companies and use their knowledge of esthetics to explain how particular products can promote healthy, clear skin.

Esthetician Training Teacher

Teaching is a great way to use your esthetics knowledge without having direct contact with those seeking skincare treatments if you are ready to leave the world of client care. Generally, esthetician teachers work at cosmetology schools and other training facilities to prepare the next generation of estheticians.

Esthetician And Medical Esthetician: Salary Outlook

In reviewing the following data, remember that estheticians and medical estheticians may hold a variety of different jobs that lead to different salaries. Also, consider whether you live in an urban or rural area. You can compare the stated salaries for esthetician jobs in your local area by searching for job openings in your area.

Medical/Paramedical Estheticians

Highest Paying Industry: General Medical and Surgical Hospitals

Average Annual Salary: $46,020

Highest Paying Metro Area: San Francisco 

*Includes all estheticians

Traditional Estheticians

Highest Paying Industry: Personal Services

Average Annual Salary: $40,300

Highest Paying Metro Area: CA Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA*

*Includes all estheticians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for estheticians employed in physician offices in 2018 was $19.35/hour, while those employed in health care facilities earned $13.73/hour. The general outlook for skincare specialists is 11% growth in the next decade (O*NET, 2018).

Knowing the differences between an esthetician and a medical esthetician can help you select the right education and career path. For more information to help you make an informed decision, check out our other pages on esthetician schools, esthetician careers, and how to become a medical esthetician.


Salon treatments by an esthetician aren’t a necessity, but they’re a nice way to pamper yourself. When used correctly, they can also improve the appearance of your skin. Be sure to discuss your skincare goals with your esthetician. It will help her create a customized treatment plan for you. You’ll need to commit to a series of treatments, done at regular intervals, to see noticeable improvements in your skin.


What does an esthetician do exactly?

An esthetician focuses on skin-related treatments. This may include less-invasive treatments like manicures, pedicures, facials, body wraps, sugaring, and waxing, and more invasive treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser hair removal, electrolysis, permanent makeup, false eyelashes, and more.

Do estheticians make good money?

Estheticians and Skincare Specialists made a median salary of $34,090 in 2019. The best-paid 25 percent made $46,770 that year, while the lowest-paid 25 percent made $25,220.

How long is esthetician school?

On average, you can expect to spend around 600 hours over six months for esthetician school, though some states require up to 750 training hours. You can explore specific training hour requirements based on your state board licensing requirements.

What is the difference between an esthetician and a dermatologist?

While both focus on the skin, dermatologists are medical doctors that specialize in skin health and treatment. Estheticians also called skin care specialists, focus primarily on the appearance of the skin.

Can an esthetician do Botox?

You are eligible to provide Botox injections if you are a medical professional, such as a physician or nurse. Estheticians, however, are not allowed to inject Botox, because it’s not within their scope of practice.