How to Become an Esthetician in 3 Simple Steps

Do you have a creative mind? Do you have a passion for beauty? Do you want to turn that creativity and passion into a career?

If so, then a career as an esthetician is worth looking into.

Estheticians (also spelled aestheticians) are skin care specialists who work in salons and spas and provide these services to customers.

Never before have estheticians been in a better career spot. The industry is estimated at $121 billion in value and it keeps on growing.

Read on if you want to learn more about how to get your foot in the door of this rapidly growing industry.

What is an Esthetician?

Estheticians are highly trained and educated skin care professionals that perform cosmetic treatments to improve a client’s skin appearance and health.

Estheticians interact with patients daily and this is a big part of their jobs. Therefore, not only do they need medical skin knowledge, but also – excellent communication skills.

The daily duties of an esthetician include:

  • Meeting with patients or clients
  • Facials
  • Discussing with the clients about their skincare problems and propose treatments
  • Facial scrubs
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Sterilizing their working area and equipment
  • Giving Head and neck massages
  • Laser treatments
  • Waxing
  • Peels

When they apply a chemical treatment to a patient they wear protective equipment like gloves and robes in order to be safe.

They mostly work full time at evenings and weekends, as these are the days and hours that their working clients visit them.

The average salary of an esthetician is $31,290.

What Does an Esthetician Do?

The nature of the esthetician profession is apparent in the name. The word “esthetician” comes from the word “aesthetics” which is the study and appreciation of the concepts of beauty and art. As such, estheticians are professional “beautifiers” who perform a wide range of beauty services.

Estheticians are primarily skin care specialists. They provide skin care treatments to clients. Common treatments include facial waxes, makeup treatments, chemical peels, and beauty consultations. Estheticians are often found in salons; here, they perform waxing, pore cleansing, and exfoliation treatments.

Estheticians are also trained in identifying skin conditions and can provide daily skin care advice to clients and help figure out daily skin treatment regimens. They also assist with recovery from plastic surgery for dermatological patients, as well as provide makeup and cosmetology advice.

Many estheticians also work in cosmetology marketing, selling creams, lotions and other skin care products. Essentially, the world of the esthetician is large and wide-ranging and there are a number of potential career paths one could go down.

Skin care treatments are highly specialized, so estheticians need to be properly trained and have a deep understanding of the composition and biological characteristics of skin. As such, estheticians must first go through a rigorous training program to learn these skills. Most states require estheticians to have a state-certified license to operate. This is granted by passing a licensing exam.

While many estheticians are employed by a salon or spa, more and more estheticians are opting to work self-employed.

Esthetician Duties

  • Provide high-quality facial treatments
  • Advise clients and give suggestions on care regimens
  • Hair removal via exfoliation, waxing, threading, etc.
  • Makeup application for daily life and special events
  • Perform facial extractions and blackhead removals
  • Provide face and body compression wraps, masks, and salt scrubs
  • Performing skin consultations/assessments
  • Maintaining a clean and sanitary workstation
  • Interacting with customers and scheduling appointments
  • Education clients on spa service/procedures

Most duties performed by an esthetician involve the daily operation of a spa or salon and the performance of various skin treatment procedures.

What is an Esthetician

Desirable Skills & Qualities of an Esthetician

Estheticians are skin care specialists, so they need to know a lot about their main object of study: skin. As such, estheticians study to learn the biological and mechanical properties of skin and how those facts relate to beauty applications. Being an esthetician is primarily a service position, so estheticians need to have good people skills and must frequently focus on customer service.

Creativity

Estheticians are all about beauty; part of this art is the subversion of common expectations. As such, estheticians need to have a unique and creative eye. Being creative with your style/designs is an important part of attaining and retaining clientele and a dose of originality is necessary to cement your unique style in the market. Following the same trends is a sure-fire way to prevent yourself from standing out.

Empathy and Compassion

Estheticians work in a domain that deals with some of the most vulnerable aspects of human psychology. Many people are self-conscious about their appearances and have serious hang-ups about the ways they present themselves.

Estheticians primarily exist to make people feel good about themselves. Sometimes this means matching their idea of themselves in their head to their actual physical appearance. Because of this, being an esthetician requires a level of compassion and empathy and a willingness to create a judgment-free space for clients where they feel comfortable.

In fact, much of the joy of being an esthetician is found in helping people become more comfortable with their appearance.

Time Management and Organizational Skills

Since most estheticians work on a per client basis, it is up to them to find and retain clients and keep their own schedules. Doing this requires having good organizational and time management skills. You must be able to keep your appointments in order and have a punctual working style.

Very often, appointments often run late, so schedule flexibility is a must. Estheticians frequently work weekends as well.

Technical Knowledge

Being an esthetician is a specialized career that requires a lot of in-depth knowledge and technical know-how. Aside from performing certain procedures, estheticians need to know the theory and science for how and why their procedures work and how they might be modified depending on a specific client’s needs.

Business Skill

More estheticians are working self-employed than ever before. Even estheticians who are not self-employed still need to understand the specifics behind the beauty business, including how to run or manage a salon and handle regulations, taxes, and product trends.

Becoming an Esthetician

Esthetician Education Requirements

In general, estheticians require a state-issued license to operate.

The exact requirements vary from state to state, but most require license applicants to be at least 16-17 years old and have received a technical education from an accredited esthetician program.

The exact lengths of these programs differ, but most states require at least 600 clinical hours. A few examples of state-required clinical hours are:

  • Alaska: 350 hours
  • Hawaii: 600 hours
  • Florida: 260 hours
  • Idaho: 600 hours
  • Georgia: 1,000 hours
  • Illinois: 750 hours
  • Massachusetts: 300 hours
  • Pennsylvania: 300 hours
  • Texas: 750 hours
  • New York: 600 hours

To get the education required to take the state licensing exam, there are two main options: you can take a focused esthetics course or attend a full-blown cosmetology school.

A dedicated esthetics program will set you up to directly take the esthetics licensing exam.

A cosmetology degree can also open this door, but cosmetologists normally require extra licensing and certification to work specifically as an esthetician.

Many programs also offer master esthetician courses that are comprised of more advanced topics and which require considerably more practice hours.

Most states require a minimum of 1,200 practical hours to receive a master esthetician certification.

Accreditation

Strictly speaking, you do not need to attend an accredited esthetics program to become an esthetician. However, attending an accredited program makes it that much easier.

First of all, esthetician programs that are accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS) ensure that your certificate from completing the program will be recognized in all states. Second, an accredited program means that the program meets certain educational requirements that are accepted by all states and esthetician employers.

Third, students in nationally accredited programs are eligible for Federal Financial Aid from the U.S. Dept. of Education. In contrast, non-accredited programs are not held to the same national educational standards and do not qualify for federal financial aid. Non-accredited programs can still get you a license, however.

What You’ll Study

Esthetician programs focus primarily on skin treatment and beauty applications.

This is different than a cosmetologist, who is trained in a wide range of beauty applications.

Most estheticians are not cosmetologists and most states require a different license for the two professions.

Esthetician programs cover much of the same ground as cosmetology programs over their course, however.

Esthetician courses focus on the science, anatomy and physiology of the skin, including skin analysis, skin care theory and basic chemistry. Along with theoretical instruction, esthetician courses involve a lot of practical work and practice.

Most of your time in an esthetician course will involve working on real clients, usually for a discounted price.

Specific treatments covered include facials, waxing, body wraps/scrubs, manicures, pedicures, eyebrow treatments, makeup treatments and aromatherapy treatments.

Most programs also include classes on the business/management side of working at a salon.

Some estheticians specialize in certain treatment methods such as:

  • Microdermabrasion
  • Permanent makeup
  • Chemical resurfacing
  • Electrolysis
  • Massages and reflexology

Becoming specialized to perform certain techniques normally requires further education with a relevant focus.

Many estheticians go on to become nurse estheticians who are trained to perform highly specialized medical skin treatments such as Botox, cosmetic filler injections and more.

Nurse estheticians often work with plastic surgeons or dermatologists and require further training and licensing.

Training Information & Types of Esthetician Degrees

The “standard” option to becoming an esthetician is to attend an accredited esthetician program. Other options include programs and courses for a master esthetician certification.

The exact length and price of education depend on the level of the program you enroll in.

Option 1: Esthetician Certificate

The most basic education option for becoming an esthetician is to attend an esthetician certificate program.

Most of the time, basic esthetician courses can be completed in 9 to 12 months, depending on whether you study full-time or part-time.

Esthetician programs are offered at junior colleges, technical colleges, career training centers, continuing education centers and private organizations.

Students are instructed in the basics of anatomy/physiology, massage techniques, facial treatments and other skin care procedures.

Admission Requirements

Most esthetician programs require applicants to be at least 16 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Some programs may also require applicants to have some prior experience working in the beauty industry or to provide letters of recommendation from employers.

Courses

A hypothetical curriculum for a semester at an esthetician certificate program might look like:

  • History of skin care
  • Basic facials
  • Sanitation and disinfection
  • Anatomy, physiology, and histology of skin
  • Cosmetic chemistry
  • Skin disease/disorders
  • Salon/spa business management
  • Make-up application/removal

The point of esthetician certificate programs is to receive a solid foundation in the basic skin care knowledge and techniques required for the trade.

Once you graduate from a certificate program, you will be ready to take any state licensing exams and find a job in the field.

Option 2: Master Esthetician Certificate

Master esthetician programs are meant to provide trained estheticians with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform advanced dermal therapies.

These programs cover much of the same ground as esthetician certificate programs but go to a greater level of depth and complexity. Like the basic certificate program, master esthetician programs require a certain number of practical hours, normally on the order of 800-1,200.

The primary reason to gain a master esthetician certification is to find better career options. A master esthetician certification shows that a student has been rigorously trained in advanced skin care techniques and procedures and has a large amount of practical experience under their belt.

A master esthetician certificate will qualify students to work in advanced positions in the field, including employment in health clinics, dermatological offices and plastic surgeon offices.

Admission Requirements

Most master esthetician certificate programs require applicants to have their esthetician license and have some professional experience working in the field. Some may require a criminal background check or letters of recommendation from employers or teachers.

Courses

A hypothetical master esthetician certificate program curriculum may contain the following courses:

  • State laws and regulations
  • Advanced anatomy/physiology
  • Advanced skin care and advanced modalities
  • Advanced procedures and chemical exfoliation
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Microdermabrasion

Option 3: Nurse Esthetician Program

Nurse estheticians are nurses who are licensed to perform certain non-surgical medical skin treatments such as Botox injections, cosmetic filler injections and anesthesia application.

Nurse estheticians usually work in medical offices and assist dermatologists, plastic surgeons and other doctors that specialize in skin related issues.

Because they assist in technical medical procedures, nurse estheticians require a separate education from regular esthetician programs.

Most nurse estheticians are already licensed practical nurses (LPN) or RNs. Nurse esthetician programs normally take around 10 months to a year to complete. Most states require nurse estheticians to pass a separate licensing exam before being employed.

Admission Requirements

Nurse esthetician programs require applicants to have already completed an LPN or RN program and to possess their nursing license. This includes any license renewals or continuing education credits you may need as a normal nurse.

Courses

A hypothetical nurse esthetician program might look like:

  • Nursing foundations
  • Advance pharmacology
  • Non-invasive skin procedures
  • Advanced skin disease/disorder pathology

Essentially, nurse esthetician courses are classes that have a focus on the medicinal treatment of skin.

Online Esthetician Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of the profession, there are no 100% online esthetician programs. Some programs might offer specific online classes, but all programs require a number of in-person practical hours which can’t be compensated for by any other alternative.

How to Get Your Esthetician License

Most states require potential estheticians to pass a state-regulated exam before being allowed to work. Like many technical professional exams, the esthetician license exam consists of both written and practical components.

Most states require applicants to have a certain amount of documented practice hours to take the exam, with the exact amount differing by the state. Oregon, for instance, requires applicants to have only 250 hours of practice, while others like Alabama require up to 1,000. Because these requirements vary so much by state, we recommend potential applicants to look up their state’s esthetician license requirements.

After applying, paying any application fees, and passing the exam, applicants will be legally allowed to operate as an esthetician in their state.

License Renewal

Most states require estheticians to complete some hours of continuing education requirements to maintain their license. The purpose of these courses is to keep estheticians abreast of the cutting edge of research, techniques, and procedures.

Most states also require a license renewal every 1 to 2 years. Normally, these do not require a re-examination, just documentation of continuing education credits and a renewal fee. If you wait too long to renew after your license expires, you may be required to retake the licensing exam to get a new one. Again, the exact time frames depend on the state, so make sure to check your state’s license renewal rules.

Be sure to be prompt about renewing your license. Operating without an esthetician license is not allowed and, while you probably won’t be thrown in jail if caught, you may incur penalties and fines.

Summary

Step 1. Complete a Certified Esthetician Program

The first step is to complete an accredited esthetician program. While it is not necessary to attend an accredited program to get your license and a job, the high-education standards at accredited schools ensure that you get the training you need to pass licensing exams and employers prefer applicants who have the backing of an accredited institution.

Step. 2 Pass the State Licensing Exams

After completing your program, the next step is to take the state required esthetician exam. As stated previously, the license exam will consist of a written and practical component. Most states require applicants to have a specific amount of recorded practice hours to apply to take the exam.

Step 3. Find a Job

Next up is finding employment. Most estheticians are employed in salons, spas, hotels, health clinics, etc. Many estheticians are self-employed and may own their own salons or studios. If you eventually want to work independently, it is recommended you first get some experience working for a salon.

Step. 4 Maintain or Renew Your License

Make sure to keep up your continuing education credits and be aware of any upcoming license renewals. It is illegal in most states to work as an esthetician without a license.

Esthetician Salary & Growth

Estheticians show good starting salaries and good potential for career growth. The median annual salary for skin care specialists in 2018 was $31,290 ($15.05/hour) and the profession is expected to grow by 14% from 2016-2026: faster than average career growth.

Associations, Groups & Resources for Estheticians

  • Aesthetic International Association (AIA)
  • American Association of Master Estheticians (AAME)
  • Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP)

Frequently Asked Questions

It depends on the level of education you are seeking. A normal esthetician certification program takes about 9-12 months to complete. Factoring in 1-3 months to study for the exam and to find a job, you could be working as an esthetician in as little as a year to a year and a half.
The median annual salary for estheticians in 2018 was $31,290 ($15.05/hour).

Most esthetician certification programs can be completed in 10-12 months.

It depends on where you go for your program. You can expect to pay around $4,000 to $6,000 for a program at a community college and anywhere from $6,000-$12,000 at a private institution.

A licensed esthetician has passed any state require exams and is legally certified to work as an esthetician in the state.

A master esthetician has completed an advanced training course and is specialized in specific skin care treatments. Master estheticians have a deeper understanding of skin care techniques and procedures and more experience to match.

There are no 100% online esthetician programs. Some programs may have specific classes online, but all programs require practical in-person instruction.

Estheticians are licensed to perform specialized skin care treatments. Cosmetologists are trained in more general beauty applications, including hair, nails, and makeup. You cannot work as an esthetician with a cosmetology license and vice versa.
Although not required by law by any means, it is good practice to tip your esthetician. In the United States, the standard tip rate for service professionals is 20%, but tips may be based on performance.

How Long Does it take to Become an Esthetician and How Much Does it Cost?

Option 1: Certificate

Degree
Time
Cost
Certificate
6 months – 12 months
$800- $3, 600
Certification
1 month
$40
Total
7 months – 13 months
$840 – $3,640

Option 2: Associate’s Degree

Degree
Time
Cost
Associates Degree
2 years
$6,000 to $26,000
Certification
1 month
$550
Total
2 years & 1 month
$6,550 – $26,550

Esthetician Training Video

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Noel Griffith

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