Esthetician vs. Dermatologist: What's the Difference?

If you’re interested in a career in skincare, it’s important to understand the distinction between estheticians, also called aestheticians, and dermatologists. While both focus on the skin, dermatologists are medical doctors that specialize in skin health and treatment. Estheticians, also called skincare specialists, focus primarily on the appearance of the skin. While estheticians certainly help their clients maintain healthy skin, they don’t have the medical training or knowledge to advise beyond esthetics.

While the professions are different, estheticians can often work with dermatologists in clinical settings. You might see positions for “medical esthetician“ or “clinical esthetician,” but there isn’t any additional training needed; the job titles mainly mean estheticians that work with doctors. In some cases, dermatology clinics will have registered nurses on staff who also trained as estheticians.

Education and Training Requirements

Estheticians and dermatologists follow different pathways. Read on to learn more about what steps are involved in those career paths.


Dermatologists are doctors, so 11 years of schooling is not uncommon. Here are the steps to become a dermatologist.

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree that fulfills medical pre-requisites. This takes around four years.
  • Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
  • Go to medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), which will take a minimum of four years to complete
  • Take the United States Medical Licensure Exam
  • Fulfill a year-long internship requirement
  • Complete a medical residency in dermatology
  • If desired, complete a medical fellowship in a sub-specialty (e.g., laser medicine or immunodermatology)
  • Take the Dermatology Board Examination administered by the American Board of Dermatology


Becoming an esthetician is a much quicker process. While specific state requirements might vary, here are the typical steps to become an esthetician.

Services Performed

Here you’ll find the distinct services performed by dermatologists and estheticians.


Dermatologists’ services look similar to most clinical doctors, but with a primary focus on the skin. Dermatology services are in high demand, and they may see up to 40-50 patients per day. They examine, assess, treat, and diagnose skin problems or illnesses. Additionally, they work with patients to create treatment plans. In some cases, dermatologists may perform surgeries or minor operations. Finally, dermatologists can refer their patients to other specialists.


Estheticians also examine skin, but the treatment and advice you can to give is purely surface-level—literally. Services include skin examination, treatment of facial blemishes or problem areas such as dry or oily spots, recommending products and daily practices to improve the skin, and removing unwanted hair. If you are concerned about something you see, you may suggest a client see a doctor. The pace of work is a bit calmer for estheticians, whose typical appointments run thirty minutes to an hour as opposed to quicker doctor visits, so you may only see between 7 to 15 clients per day.

Typical Day at Work

Both dermatologists and estheticians are busy, but because of the demand and work environments, their days are quite different. Here’s more about what you can expect for your workday in each profession.


Typically, dermatologists work in clinical settings, often private practices; however, many hospitals and clinics offer dermatological services. Both settings have higher focuses on health than appearance. Dermatology practices usually have one or two physicians as the primary providers with support staff including registered nurses, administrative staff, and occasionally trained estheticians. Because private dermatology offices frequently offer both health and esthetic-focused services, they may provide promotional offerings for services such as microdermabrasion that patients might not otherwise consider. Dermatologists typically work a long five-day workweek; however, some practices offer extended or weekend hours for patients who can’t make appointments during traditional office hours. You can also expect to spend out-of-clinic hours performing administrative tasks like charting patients' updated health records.


Estheticians work in a variety of settings, including spas, salons, and gyms. In these locations, you will often work alongside other beauty and professionals. As stated, estheticians can serve in dermatology offices or health centers. The days can be jam-packed with clients, but they are usually not as hectic as the short, potentially urgent appointments offered in dermatology offices. You likely have a bit of control over your schedule. Spas, salons, and similar businesses are usually open on weekends and in evenings, so you should expect to work during those times.

Return on Investment

As you think through which path you’d like to take, you want to weigh out the return on financial and time investments. As you make your decision, here are some things to consider for each career.

Salary and Job Outlook

There is a large gap between the salaries of an esthetician versus a dermatologist, so that is a factor to consider when deciding which avenue to pursue. Physicians’ median annual salary is over $208,000, or $100 per hour, with dermatology’s projected job growth being 8% between 2018 and 2028. Estheticians’ median annual salary is $31,290, or $15.05 per hour, with job growth projections at 11%.

Cost and Time Commitment of Education

Dermatologists are in school for at least eight years between a bachelor’s and MD program, followed by four more years of training/residency at lower pay. As of 2017, bachelor's degrees typically cost $17,237 at public schools, and medical school typically costs $34,592 per year for in-state students as of 2017. The overall cost of schooling can be over $200,000. On the other hand, esthetician school usually costs between $3,000 and $10,000 total, and you’re typically able to obtain your license after about six months of training (depending on state requirements).

Esthetics/Skin Care
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