Getting Your Esthetician License: An Introduction
Estheticians are licensed to care for people's skin. Each state has its own esthetician licensure requirements, but there are some commonalities.
This guide talks about license requirements, fees, license maintenance and renewal, and specific esthetician license requirements in your state.
What Are the Requirements to Become a Licensed Esthetician?
Though each state is different when you get down into the details, nearly all need you to do is:
- Complete a state-approved esthetician training program or apprenticeship (if allowed).
- Take and pass all required exams.
- Submit an esthetician license application and fee to the state.
Select a state below to learn more about its esthetician license requirements.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Not every state calls this an "esthetician" license. Some states use “skincare specialist,” "aesthetician," or another term. Still others offer several licenses allowing professionals to offer specific services.
Any states require estheticians to take two exams: theory (written) and practical (hands-on).
The theory/written esthetics exams may remind you of standardized tests you took in school, where you sat at a computer or desk and answered questions. Some of these exams may include writing step-by-step treatment instructions, but most focus on sanitation, laws, science, and other concepts. Chances are you'll encounter a lot of multiple choice questions.
Meanwhile, esthetics practical exams involve performing treatments on people or mannequins while being evaluated.
Many states use the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) exams as their esthetician licensure tests. However, some use tests from other organizations or create their own.
If you need ADA accommodations, you need to turn in that paperwork before your exams.
Esthetician license fees vary by state. Many places combine license and exam costs, but others separate the two. Most require additional fees if you have to take the esthetician tests more than once. While students usually pay out of pocket for exams and licensure, some esthetician schools may cover the costs as part of the tuition and fees—at least for the initial application following graduation.
After getting your initial esthetician license, you'll typically need to renew it on a schedule set by the state. That also has costs involved.
An esthetician license is broad and covers lots of things, while a certification focuses on one or two things. You often, but not always, have to have an esthetician or cosmetology license to get a certification, while a certification isn't needed for a license.
To practice esthetics, you need to have a license. Certifications, on the other hand, are rarely to never required. You might need something akin to a certification to practice certain treatments, like threading, but those aren't typically called certifications. You'll likely find those listed as "registrations" or even as "licenses," despite how limited in scope they are.
This can all be unnecessarily confusing! So all you really have to remember is that a license is a need, while a certification is a want.
Esthetics certifications typically fall into two categories: Advanced esthetics and individual techniques.
Popular Esthetics Certifications
While there are many certifications that could be considered advanced studies in esthetics, there are two biggies that are recognized nationwide—if not beyond:
Popular Esthetics Specialty Certifications
Esthetics specialty certifications can expand upon one thing taught in your esthetics program or cover a new, related topic. A few favorites are:
Not all of these certifications are allowed in every state. For instance, some states consider microblading to be a part of tattooing, so you'd need to get a tattoo license to offer that treatment. You also may not receive an actual certificate if you take extra classes in these areas, but you could them include that training on your resume and portfolio.
Medical esthetics isn't a certification in and of itself, but you may be able to take classes to improve your skills in relevant areas. Talk to your employer about your options.
Esthetician licensure is not a one-and-done process. You need to renew your license periodically to keep practicing esthetics in your state.
As with initial licensure, esthetician state boards determine renewal requirements. These mandates include:
Most states have licensure renewal every other year, though this can vary.
Continuing education allows you to refresh old skills and learn new ones. Not every state requires coursework to renew licensure, but most require five to 10 hours. Even if your state doesn't mandate continuing education, it doesn't hurt to take classes to stay current with trends and new techniques.
Esthetician license reciprocity, or the ability to take your esthetics license from one state to another, varies from state to state.
Some states have direct reciprocity agreements, meaning you only need to prove you currently have a license and apply to your new state, likely with a fee. You don't need to take extra classes or an exam. In general, if a state doesn't offer direct reciprocity, you may not have to do a ton of extra work if your state of licensure has equal or higher training requirements than the one you're moving to. You might have to take an exam or two.
If your old state has lower training requirements than the new one, you may be required to take the state license exam, pay reciprocity license fees, take additional state-approved training, and/or provide proof of prior work experience.