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Esthetician Career Guide

What is an esthetician?

An esthetician is a state-licensed skin care professional who performs various treatments, including waxing, steaming, pore cleansing, and peels, that help promote the health and beauty of the skin. They are not healthcare providers. As such, they don’t diagnose skin conditions or prescribe medications. However, they are licensed to perform cosmetic skin treatments. They perform procedures to help improve the appearance of the skin and to combat the adverse effects of sun exposure and aging. Estheticians educate clients on skin cleansing, diet, and how to properly use skin-care products as well. 

With the exception of Connecticut, all states require that estheticians be licensed as health and wellness professionals. Several states, such as Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington State, and Washington D.C., license master estheticians, who are permitted to perform more advanced treatments, such as lymphatic drainage.

Estheticians help clients with complexion problems such as eczema or acne, using therapies to improve the tone, texture, color, and youthfulness of the skin. In addition, they perform a wide variety of body therapies, including salt or sugar scrubs, body wraps, and hair removal. Therapy treatments may include hot stone massages, mud baths, and aromatherapy designed to cleanse the mind and the spirit as much as the body. 

Along with creams, lotions, and serums, estheticians use mechanical or electrical appliances and devices, including microdermabrasion machines, brushing machines, electric pulverizers, atomizers, and galvanic current to improve skin conditions.

Qualifications and eligibility

Estheticians need to have excellent communication and customer service skills. They must have good dexterity and the ability to work with their hands. They must be comfortable working one-on-one with clients, touching them while performing treatments, and making them feel relaxed. They should be personable and kind. Strong knowledge of skin care types, needs, products, and treatments is a must.  

Most states require these professionals to have at least a certificate degree in cosmetology, but associate’s degrees are also available. The programs typically include both classroom and practical instruction where students learn anatomy, chemistry, business, ethics, safety, and more.

Most employers train estheticians on the job, so prior experience is not necessarily required. Training is often specific to the type of business (spa, resort, physician’s office). Part of the training involves instruction on how to interact with clients. These individuals should be friendly and welcoming, and ready to answer any questions or address any concerns a client may have.

All states except Connecticut require estheticians to be licensed before they can work in the state. Additional licensing or education can help advance your career. The good news is that the majority of your courses can be taken online. 

Here are the best online esthetician schools:

  • Lead by Loreal: The first of its kind, Loreal has partnered with colleges to create a degree that’s perfect for the beauty professional. Some of the education is offered online, but you may need to complete clinical hours in person.

Work environment

Estheticians work in various locations, such as spas, resorts, health and beauty salons, medical spas, chiropractic offices, laser centers, health clinics, and dermatology clinics. Some are employed by the business they work for, but others rent space from a salon or spa owner and work as independent contractors. 

These professionals must stand for long periods, and their work requires them to be in close contact with clients. They also use potentially hazardous chemicals and electrical equipment. Although estheticians typically work in clean and well-lit environments, they may be exposed to contagious diseases.

They might perform a variety of skin treatments using special soaps, creams, chemicals, lotions, specialized equipment, and other solutions to address skin imperfections. They may also only specialize in one or a few different treatments. They may have to sit for long periods while working with clients and use their hands to apply treatments throughout the day. 

Some individuals work as wedding consultants, educators, sales representatives, product manufacturers, teachers, or makeup artists in television studios, movie sets, or fashion shows. The environments can vary greatly, but they almost always work indoors in comfortable settings.

Typical work hours

Estheticians typically work full-time during normal business hours, but they may work evenings or weekends to accommodate clients’ schedules. Others work at spas, resorts, or on cruise ships that operate every day of the week, and the hours they work may vary or change often.

Types of estheticians

Estheticians perform a variety of skin treatments and may specialize in one or more. Some different types of specialties include:


Facial treatments include deep cleansing, facial steams, exfoliating treatments, facial masks, and applying moisturizers or serums. They tailor the treatments to your skin type and your needs. 


Extractions involve the removal of blackheads from your skin, which includes cleansing dead skin and oil from your pores. Extractions can help reduce the development of inflammatory acne. 

Acne treatment

Estheticians use exfoliating procedures and over-the-counter acne products to aid in clearing up mild acne conditions. Those with moderate or severe acne should be treated by a dermatologist. They also help clients choose skin care products that help against acne treatment side effects such as dry skin.


Microdermabrasion entails the use of very fine crystals brushed over the skin to gently remove dead cells, thus promoting softer skin and clearer pores.

Superficial chemical peels

Superficial chemical peels are performed using an alpha hydroxy acid to rapidly exfoliate the skin and give it a healthy glow. A consistent regimen of chemical peels can have anti-aging benefits.

Body wraps, masks, and scrubs

These body treatments include salt exfoliation, sugar scrubs, clay body masks, and seaweed body wraps to promote the health and beauty of the entire body. 

Hair removal

A specialty of esthetics that removes unwanted hair using techniques such as waxing, tweezing, threading, and laser hair removal. They remove hair from any part of the body, including the pubic area, back, chest, and face. Bikini waxes and Brazilian waxes are common hair removal services provided by these individuals. 

Airbrush tanning

This is a popular procedure they perform for those who want a tan but don’t want the harmful effects of the sun. 

Makeup application

Estheticians who specialize in makeup application typically do so for clients on special occasions, such as a wedding or prom.

Income potential

The earning potential for an esthetician can vary greatly depending on geographic location, industry, education, experience, and specialty. 

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for skin care specialists was $17.93 in May 2021. This equates to $37,294 annually for full-time estheticians. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.10 ($23,088 annually), and the highest 10 percent earned more than $31.58 ($65,686 annually).
  • The top industries for skin care specialists in May 2021 were:
    • Offices of physicians – $18.17 ($37,793 annually)
    • Personal care services – $17.93 ($37,294 annually)
    • Health and personal care stores – $15.21 ($31,636 annually)
    • Traveler accommodation – $14.34 ($29,827 annually)
  • The top paying cities for licensed estheticians are:
    • Atkinson, NE – $55,981
    • Lake Marcel-Stillwater, WA – $49,086
    • New York City, NY – $49,011
    • Bridgehampton, NY – $48,272
    • San Mateo, CA – $47,735

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that skincare specialist employment will grow 29% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 10,100 openings for skin care specialists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. The projected increase in employment is due to the expected high demand for services performed by skin care specialists as opposed to hairdressers, hair stylists, or cosmetologists. Healthier lifestyles, an aging population, and social media platforms are contributing to the desire among many people to seek out the services of estheticians to look better and healthier.

Career path

As an esthetician, you have a variety of career paths available to you, including working in salons, spas, or resorts. You can go into cosmetics sales, marketing, purchasing, or beauty consulting. Some become paramedical estheticians or training instructors. Some of the career options for licensed individuals include:

  • Manicurist
  • Pedicurist
  • Makeup artist
  • Salon or spa manager
  • Skincare specialist
  • Medical or paramedical esthetician
  • Clinical esthetician
  • Master esthetician
  • Medical spa manager
  • Wax/hair removal specialist 
  • Cosmetologist
  • Massage therapist

Steps to becoming an esthetician

1. Get an associate’s degree

An associate’s degree in cosmetology typically takes 2 years to complete and includes classroom practical training in student salons and clinics. Although generally not required, an associate’s degree can give you an advantage over your competition when applying for jobs. Some top associate degree programs for cosmetology include:

The best esthetician schools available include:

  • Aveda: Known for skincare and hair, Aveda has over 64 locations. With thousands of graduates each year, Aveda is one you don’t want to miss out on.
  • Aesthetic Science Institute: Mixing science with beauty, ASI focuses on things like microdermabrasion, chemical peels, anti-aging treatments, electric current, laser, LED light, micro-current, radio frequency, infra-red, and more.
  • Bellus Academy: With 1,000 training hours needed to graduate, this academy is focused on rigorous academic training. Graduates are well prepared to step into esthetics. 
  • Hollywood Institute of Beauty: Known as one of the top beauty schools in the country, this is not an easy way out. With locations only in Florida, you’ll be trained by some of the best in the industry. You’ll have to complete 1,200 hours, but they offer this in a part-time program as well which will take 17 months.

2. Get a cosmetology certificate

As an alternative to an associate’s degree, you can earn a certificate degree in cosmetology, which typically takes about 9 months to 1 year to complete. A high school diploma or GED is required to enroll. Certificate programs generally cover hair, makeup, nails, and skin care, and provide classroom and hands-on experience. 

Make sure you attend an accredited program. The top accrediting bodies include:

3. Get your state license

Except in Connecticut, you must earn a license to practice in the state where you plan to work. The requirements for obtaining a license can vary by state, so you’ll have to research those in your state to ensure you receive the correct license. In addition to passing the state exam, many states require a certain number of classroom and practical education hours before you can get your license.

4. Get work experience

Once you have your state license, you can apply for entry-level positions in the state where you are licensed. This is where you can gain work experience, gain clients, and establish yourself in the industry. 

5. Maintain your license

Most states require that you renew your license after a certain number of years. This time frame varies by state, so you will need to check the requirements for the state you plan to work in to ensure your license doesn’t expire. 

6. Get certified

Although some employers don’t require certification, it can be beneficial to your career by showing your passion and dedication to the practice. Having a certification can make a big difference when applying for jobs. The NCEA certification program requires that you have an associate’s degree in cosmetology or have completed a cosmetology degree program and that you have at least two years of experience. Certification is provided by the National Coalition of Estheticians Association (NCEA).

  • National Esthetician Certification – offered by the National Coalition of Estheticians Association (NCEA), this certification is the highest skin care credential in the United States. Earning this credential provides you with the most comprehensive and diverse skill set in the industry. The program includes a training booklet and an exam. Once you complete the course and pass the exam, your certification is good for three years before you need to become recertified by retaking the exam.  

7. Get a master esthetician license

To advance your career, you can pursue a master esthetician license, which includes the same extensive skin therapy training as a basic license. However, keep in mind only a few states offer this: Washington, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and D.C. In addition, you’ll take advanced coursework and get hands-on practice in medical skills, including microdermabrasion, laser hair removal, and laser skin therapy.

With a master esthetician license, you’ll be qualified to work in medi-spas and health care centers, dermatologist offices, plastic surgeon offices, and for other physicians that treat patients dealing with a range of skin conditions or recovering from injuries or surgeries.

The training typically consists of 1,200 to 1,500 hours of coursework, after which you’ll need to pass a master licensing exam. The details and requirements can vary by state, so check with the state board of cosmetology where you work for details. Licenses generally are good for 3 years and must be renewed.

8. Meet the continuing education requirements

Check the state board where you work for continuing education requirements as they can vary. Continuing education not only helps maintain your license, but also helps you stay up-to-date on new techniques, studies, and products in the field.

Tips for becoming an esthetician

If you are planning to become an esthetician, there are a few things you can do to put you ahead of the game.

  • Have a passion for skin care and for helping others achieve their skincare goals.
  • Develop good communication skills. To build and maintain a good client base, you will need excellent verbal communication skills as well as a friendly personality.
  • Know the requirements to work in your state. This is important since requirements can vary by state. 
  • Decide what your interests are. Are you interested in facial skin care? Full body skin care? Hair removal? By knowing which aspect of esthetics appeals most to you, you’ll be able to tailor your training and narrow your job search to the positions best suited for you.  
  • Find the best school or program for your educational needs. Decide if a 2-year associate’s degree or a certificate degree program is right for you are where you want your career to go. 
  • Visit a salon or spa and talk to a licensed esthetician. Find out what they do every day to get a better understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. If possible, talk to a professional closely related to the type of work you want to do or the business you want to work in. 
  • Keep up with the latest trends, products, developments, and techniques. An easy way to do this is by using online searches. 
  • Get certified. A national esthetician credential can open doors for you, help you advance your career, and shows that you are dedicated to becoming the best esthetician you can be. The National Esthetician Certification is attained through the National Coalition of Estheticians Association (NCEA). 
  • Join associations. Here you’ll find career resources, job opportunities, and more. You’ll also be able to network and interact with members. Some of the best associations are:

Esthetician interview questions to expect

  1. How would you give a facial on an oily skin type versus a combination skin type?
  2. How often do you sterilize your drilling tools for manicures and pedicures?
  3. A client reacted poorly to a chemical peel. How would you make this right?
  4. A client asks for help with the rosacea on her face. She says she’s been exfoliating both with contact and chemicals. What would be the first thing you do for her skin?
  5. Why is it important to use fresh and sterile brushes every time you’re working on a client?

Esthetician FAQs