An esthetician (also known as an aesthetician) is a state-licensed skin care professional who has been trained through apprenticeships or formal esthetics programs to perform treatments that promote skin health and beauty. These include facials, superficial chemical peels, body treatments, and waxing.
With more people seeking non-invasive treatments to help them look more youthful, this occupation is on the rise. There are more than 60,000 estheticians in the United States, and the demand for them is growing faster than the national average.
This article explains an esthetician’s services, training, and certification. It also offers tips to make the most of your appointment.
What Estheticians Do (and Don’t Do)
Estheticians, also called skin care therapists, specialize in treatments, therapies, and procedures that help the skin in different ways, including:
- Maintaining its health, wellness, and vitality
- Improving its overall appearance, including the tone, texture, and color
- Combating the effects of sun exposure and aging
This not only includes the skin of the face and neck but also that of the hands, feet, and entire body.
Although the term “medical aesthetics” is commonly used, esthetics is not a medical practice. As such, estheticians are not allowed to do certain things, including:
- Diagnose skin conditions
- Prescribe medications
- Suggest treatment for any skin condition outside of cosmetic products
Estheticians are limited to performing treatments that work on the superficial layers of the skin. Therefore, they can’t give any types of injectables like Botox (a procedure that treats wrinkles) or facial fillers (non-surgical facelifts), nor can they do deep chemical peels.
A licensed medical professional, such as a dermatologist, is qualified to diagnose skin conditions and perform a wide range of invasive and non-invasive procedures.
Many estheticians specialize in certain areas, and every spa will have different offerings on its menu. However, there are some fundamental treatments estheticians provide.
The facial is an esthetician’s signature treatment. A basic facial consists of:
- Deep cleansing
- Facial steam
- Exfoliating treatment
- Moisturizer or serum
An esthetician may also treat you to a facial massage, arm and shoulder massage, and apply specialty products during a facial.
Facials are tailored to suit your skin’s needs and your personal preferences. Every esthetician has a unique method as well.
Extractions are when an esthetician removes blackheads from your skin. They usually include this process with most facials.
After your esthetician manually removes blackheads, they cleanse dead skin cell blockages and oil from your pores.
Extraction makes an immediate improvement in the look and feel of the skin. It can also help prevent inflammatory acne (blemishes that are infected with bacteria) from developing in the future.
Exfoliating procedures, along with extractions and over-the-counter (OTC) acne products, can often clear up mild acne and blackheads. Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells using scrubs or chemicals.
Estheticians don’t “pop” inflamed pimples, since this can make swelling and redness worse and may lead to scarring. If your acne is moderate to severe, a dermatologist should treat it.
If you receive medical treatment for acne, talk to your healthcare provider about the possibility of complementary esthetician care to be sure it’s safe in your situation.
Often, people see an esthetician for treatments that can be used with prescription acne medications. Estheticians can also help you choose skin care products that help combat acne treatment side effects, like extra dry skin.
Microdermabrasion is a specialty—and wildly popular—treatment some estheticians offer. Superfine crystals (or a diamond-tipped wand) are passed over the skin during a treatment, gently removing dead cells.
This treatment offers numerous benefits, including:
- Softer skin
- Fewer fine lines
- Improvement in minor hyperpigmentation (patches of darker skin)
- Smaller pores
Superficial Chemical Peels
Superficial chemical peels use an alpha hydroxy acid (most often glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid) to rapidly exfoliate the skin and give it a healthy glow.
These peels are some of the more popular treatments offered by estheticians. When done consistently, they can have anti-aging benefits.
People sometimes call these “lunchtime peels” because they require no downtime. You can have them done over your lunch hour and return to work immediately.
Body Wraps, Masks, and Scrubs
Estheticians don’t just work on the face; they care for the skin on the entire body. Treatments for the body may include:
- Salt glows (exfoliation using salt)
- Sugar scrubs (exfoliation using sugar crystals)
- Clay body masks
- Seaweed body wraps
Salt and scrubs exfoliate, while masks and wraps help soften and brighten your skin. On top of leaving your skin feeling silky smooth, these treatments can be relaxing.
Many estheticians specialize in hair removal. If you’ve got unwanted hair, an esthetician can get rid of it through several methods, including:
An esthetician can remove hair from just about anywhere, including your pubic area, back, chest, and face. Bikini waxes (removal of pubic hair visible when wearing a swim bottom) and Brazilian waxes (full removal of pubic hair) are pretty common hair removal services, probably second only to brow shaping.
Not all estheticians offer this service, but it’s become more popular since people have become more aware of the dangers of tanning. Airbrush tanning is a safer way to get a golden glow.
During the process, an esthetician sprays your skin with an ultra-fine mist of sunless tanning product. Once dry, you’ll have a convincing “tan” that lasts for up to two weeks.
You might book an esthetician to get your makeup done for a special event like a wedding or prom.
There’s no need to supply your own makeup. Estheticians work from their makeup kit using clean application tools for your protection.
Schedule well in advance of your event if you’re interested in this service. Good makeup artists get booked quickly, especially during the busy spring and summer months.
Laser resurfacing is a facial rejuvenation technique that uses a laser to improve the skin’s appearance or correct minor facial flaws.
It involves the use of a fractional laser that leaves some columns of skin cells untouched while others are treated. This shortens the recovery time and prevents complications such as skin discoloration caused by laser overtreatment.
There are two types of laser resurfacing.
- Ablative therapy: This removes the outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis. This, in turn, stimulates the production of collagen (a structural skin protein), resulting in smoother and tighter skin.
- Nonablative therapy: This stimulates collagen production by heating rather than removing the epidermis. It is less aggressive, but the results tend to be far less noticeable.
Laser resurfacing can improve skin tone and lessen the appearance of fine lines, but it can’t eliminate sagging skin or heavy wrinkles.
LED Light Therapy
LED light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that may help reduce fine lines or skin problems like mild acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema. It may also help improve sun-damaged skin or prevent or slow hair loss.
Different colored LED lights are used for different reasons:
- Blue light affects the epidermis and may kill skin bacteria associated with acne.
- Red light travels into the underlying dermis and subcutaneous layer and may help stimulate collagen production.
The effects of the LED light therapy are not permanent. Maintenance procedures are generally needed.
Thermage and CoolSculpting
Thermage is a proprietary, non-invasive, skin-tightening technique that uses high radiofrequency (RF) waves that heat the underlying dermis and subcutaneous tissues. This stimulates the production of collagen as skin fibers are disrupted, a process that will continue as the skin heals itself and rebuilds the collagen scaffolding underneath.
On the flip side, CoolSculpting is a proprietary technique that uses cold to get rid of excess subcutaneous fat and contour the skin. Also referred to as cryptolysis, CoolSculpting applies temperatures as low as 12 F (-11 C) to the skin using a handheld device. This causes death to subcutaneous tissues without apparent damage to the overlying skin.
Where Estheticians Work
Estheticians may provide services in:
- Day spas
- Skin spas
- Medi-spas (hybrid day spa and medical clinic)
Some estheticians work closely with dermatologists. Doctors may refer patients to an esthetician or have one on staff who works with them at their office.
In a medical setting, estheticians perform procedures that complement a dermatologist’s treatments.
Training and Licensing
Estheticians require licensure in all 50 states. Depending on the state’s requirements, they first have to complete 300 to 1,500 hours of training in an accredited cosmetology program.
Those who want to work in a doctor’s office, medical spa, cosmetic surgery clinic, or a hospital can specialize in medical esthetics. Oncology esthetics requires advanced study for how to safely provide services for people undergoing cancer treatments that may affect the skin, such as dryness and rashes.
After they complete training, estheticians also need to pass both a written and a practical, or hands-on, exam. The state board of cosmetology or department of health licenses estheticians.
After obtaining a license, a good esthetician also completes many hours of post-graduate education to stay abreast of the latest developments in skin care. A few states recognize master estheticians, or those who have completed advanced training.
Tips for Your Esthetician Appointment
To get the best results and enjoy your treatment, you’ll need to find the right esthetician for you. One way to find a reputable professional is to ask friends and family for referrals and recommendations.
Remember that the services estheticians offer can vary, as can their fees, so ask about these things in advance.
Look For a Specialist
Look for someone knowledgeable in the area that’s most important to you. Ideally, that person will perform the service you are looking for often, rather than here and there.
For example, if you’re looking for a little facial rejuvenation and the esthetician spends the bulk of their day doing body treatments, they may not have the experience to help you get the best results.
Ask an esthetician about their specialities and their most performed treatments before booking.
Also make sure the esthetician has a current license to practice in your state. You might also look for one who is certified by the National Coalition of Estheticians Association (NCEA).
Comfort Is Key
Esthetician services are up-close and personal, and nearly every one requires some level of undress.
Find someone you feel comfortable with and don’t hesitate to specifically request them every time you visit.
Consider the salon’s hours. Is it open during times that are convenient for you?
Also, ask when the esthetician is available. Some set their own hours, which may change each week.
Estheticians are skin care professionals that offer cosmetic treatments. They are not medical professionals and may not diagnose, prescribe, or treat health conditions. However, sometimes they work in collaboration with dermatologists.
Estheticians commonly offer facials, acne treatment, skin exfoliation and peels, spray tanning, hair removal, and makeup application.
A Word From Verywell
While salon treatments by an esthetician aren’t a necessity, they’re an excellent way to pamper yourself and help your skin look brighter and healthier. Make sure you let your esthetician know your skin care goals. This information will help them customize a treatment plan for you.
Also, remember that you’ll usually need to commit to a series of treatments done at regular intervals to get a noticeable improvement of your skin.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is an esthetician different from a dermatologist?
An esthetician is not a medical healthcare provider and must limit their services to superficial skin care treatments. In addition, unlike dermatologists, who are medical doctors, they cannot diagnose skin conditions or prescribe medication.
How long do you have to go to school to become an esthetician?
It depends on the state the school is in. All require estheticians to complete a minimum number of practice hours, with the typical minimum being around 600 hours. Estheticians who wish to pursue a specialty like medical esthetics need to log more time.
How much money do estheticians make?
According to 2020 Bureau for Labor Statistics data, hourly wages for skincare specialists range from $10.99 to $31.06, with an average of $19.82. In terms of yearly salaries, the range is from $22,850 to $64,610, averaging $41,230. These numbers do not consider tips, commission, and other forms of compensation.
What is a master esthetician?
A master esthetician is a professional who has undergone extra training. These professionals are licensed to perform advanced procedures like medium-deep chemical peels, lymph node drainage, and specific laser treatments. Only Washington, DC, Washington state, North Dakota, Utah, and Virginia recognize this upper tier of licensure.