It's a great time to be an aspiring esthetician. If you're interested in a career dedicated to beautifying, maintaining, improving, and treating the skin of people who are willing to pay good money for those services, you'll be joining an industry on the rise. The global skin care sector has grown by tens of billions of dollars in the last few years alone as society focuses more on wellness and self-care, and the industry opens itself to waves of men who are seeking cosmetology services that were long delivered almost exclusively to women. In fact, skin care is now the fastest-growing profession in the beauty arts and sciences.
What Does an Esthetician Do?
An esthetician is a licensed professional who provides skin care treatments such as facials, hair removal, blemish extractions, and skin conditioning.
Skilled and well-trained estheticians are in high demand from all kinds of businesses and facilities. They perform relaxing and revitalizing treatments in spas and salons. They cater to wealthy travelers in high-end hotels and luxury resorts. They work with patients before and after procedures in hospitals and in the offices of dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Some estheticians even offer treatment and counsel in a nursing facility or assist makeup specialists on movie sets.
Regardless of workplace, the skills you need and the work you do will not change too much from place to place. The training programs and licensing procedures described here will prepare you for a career in any of those environments and many more.
Training to be an esthetician is a heavy lift. In order to get a license, you must first demonstrate a thorough understanding of the enormous and complex organ that is the human skin, in addition to how it relates to the body as a whole. Estheticians must be intimately familiar with the chemical composition of the materials they use and the technology that delivers advanced treatments with things like LED light, oxygen, lasers, and ultrasonic waves.
Salary ranges vary by where you live, the specialty you choose, and the setting in which you decide to work.
Perhaps most importantly, the work demands a personality that exudes professionalism, instills confidence, and reassures the people being treated that they’re under the skilled and capable care of a technician who empathizes with their concerns and understands their needs.
Starting Esthetician School
If you've already decided that a career as an esthetician is right for you, make sure you know what you're getting into. Attending an esthetician program is a heavy commitment in time, money, and effort, so it's your responsibility to have everything you need in order, and to make sure you understand the prerequisites, costs, enrollment requirements, and program length before you commit.
Esthetician Program Enrollment Requirements
Prerequisites to becoming an esthetician, such as education requirements, vary by state, as do testing, training hours, and other licensing requirements. Costs of schooling also vary widely by state regulations, by school, and by program specialization.
To give you a sense of the range: Some states require only an eighth-grade education, others a high school diploma. Some states grant licenses after just 250 hours of training, while others require 1,000.
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Esthetics Program Costs
According to the American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS), you should expect to pay between $3,000 and $10,000 for a high-quality esthetician program. Your specific program's price tag depends on factors like program length, required training hours, and location. Registration fees vary by program, as does the initial financial investment of purchasing your own equipment, supplies, textbooks, and other necessary materials. Fortunately, many esthetician programs will likely fall on the low side of that spectrum, and you can also pursue scholarships and other financial aid to help offset costs.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Esthetics Program?
The national average for required esthetician training hours across states is 650, which can be completed in as little as six months, though most states require only 600 training hours. It's important to note, however, that the six-month time frame assumes you're training full time. Part-time students will take longer to complete their programs, as training hour requirements don't change no matter your enrollment status.
What Do You Learn in an Esthetics Program?
Esthetics training goes far beyond just learning about skin care. Estheticians must master concepts like sanitation standards, human physiology, and state laws. Special certification and licensing can prepare you for advanced work, but basic esthetician training will qualify you to provide services like hair removal and waxing, cleansing, facials, exfoliation, and makeup application.
While each program offers slightly different courses, you can reasonably expect to learn the following topics in an esthetician program:
- Facials, Cleansing, Toning, and Massaging: These essential courses prepare you for treating your clients’ skin in a safe and skilled way.
- Makeup Application: In this type of course, you will learn how to apply makeup to your client and enhance their natural beauty.
- Hair Removal and Waxing: Learning these topics will provide you with the knowledge needed to remove unwanted hair from your clients’ skin.
- Body Treatments, Wraps, Aromatherapy: These courses will teach you how to provide specialty services such as treatments or wraps for your clients.
- Skin Conditions and Disorders: Learning about the physiology of the skin will provide you with a foundational knowledge of the composition of your clients’ skin.
- Marketing, Sales, and Salon Management: There is more to the job than just facials and seaweed wraps, and this course will prepare you for interpersonal relations and provide you with the best ways to manage your business, especially if you plan on owning your own business someday.
- Safety, Sanitation, and Sterilization: Arguably the most important subjects that you will learn, cleanliness and safety should be the foundation upon which you build your esthetician knowledge.
Esthetician Training Hour Requirements
Training hours are focused on hands-on learning. This could include practicing setting up a workstation, prepping clients, sanitizing equipment, or performing treatments on mannequins or live models. Courses may be instructor-led or involve collaborative work with fellow students, so be prepared to work in groups.
The average number of required training hours in an esthetician program is 650, and although that varies by state, the vast majority fall within the 500-750 range. That doesn't, however, mean that your program won't go longer, considering you'll be required to complete supplementary coursework.
Differences Between Esthetician and Cosmetology Programs
Esthetics is a specialty that focuses solely on the skin and its associated components, like hair. A subdivision of cosmetology, it's a broad category that includes skin care and several other concentrations. Cosmetology programs are much more involved, take longer to complete, and are almost always more expensive than esthetician programs. Cosmetology coursework covers skin care, but also things like nail care, makeup, and hair styling. In short, cosmetologists often complete training in esthetics, but an esthetician program will not qualify you to work as a cosmetologist.
As previously stated, estheticians can work in a variety of settings, including spas, resorts, salons, and doctors’ offices. Because of their broader training and varied skill sets, however, cosmetologists have a greater diversity of choices. Many cosmetologists who finish their programs are qualified to work as estheticians, provided their state licensure requirements permit it, but they can also work as hair stylists or color experts, makeup artists, and nail technicians.
How to Pick an Esthetician Program
When choosing an esthetician program, make sure that the program:
- Prepares you for your state licensing exam: With the exception of Connecticut, you need a license to work in every state in America. Your program must prepare you with both the training and education needed to pass all required exams and enough training hours to satisfy your state's regulations.
- Has an excellent reputation: Some schools satisfy state requirements, but don't leave their graduates feeling that they got their money's worth. Be sure to check several sources of online reviews and ask for references from current or former students to make sure the instructors, coursework, materials, and environment are safe, sanitary, welcoming, and professional.
- Offers the specialty that interest you: If you know going in that you want to focus on hair removal, waxing, facials, or any other specialty, make sure your program puts a strong emphasis on that kind of training.
- Has strong business relationships and career assistance programs: The best schools will have relationships with local salons, spas, and other businesses that hire estheticians where they can refer their best students for possible employment. You should choose a school that offers career assistance and job placement after you complete the program.
- Is accredited: All schools must register with the Department of Education in their state, but accreditation is not required. Some schools pursue accreditation so they can offer government-funded financial aid such as student loans or grants, but their programs must first meet a specific hour requirement. Some programs, particularly those in states with shorter hour requirements, don't meet the standards required for their students to receive awards in government-funded financial aid.
How to Become an Esthetician
To become a licensed esthetician, you'll have to complete an esthetics program, complete your necessary training hours, pass the required exams, receive your license, and maintain licensure throughout your career.
- Complete an Esthetics Program: As previously mentioned, there are different types of programs, but they all have one thing in common—they're designed to prepare you for a career as a professional esthetician. Courses taught in esthetics school, however, are only one piece of the puzzle. In order to graduate and qualify for licensure, you'll have to complete a designated number of training hours set by your state board.
- Pass the Required Esthetics Exams: For most aspiring estheticians, a comprehensive exam will be the final challenge along their journey. Most states require students to pass the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) exam, which is a two-part test. The written, or theory exam, tests your knowledge while the hands-on practical examination tests your ability to set up a work station, perform treatments, and other physical, procedural work like the kind you'll do in your career. The states that don't require the NIC exam test students with a comparable exam.
- Earn an Esthetician License: With the exception of Connecticut, every state requires you to earn a license before you can work as an esthetician. Licensure won't be granted until you complete the mandated number of training hours, which, along with the other requirements, varies by state. Visit our licensing page for more detailed information.
- Maintain Esthetics Licensure: Each state requires estheticians to maintain and renew their licenses to ensure that they are offering safe and professional services. The renewal process in some states requires estheticians to continue their education in the form of additional training hours.
Additional Skin Care Certifications and Training
The phrase "continuing education" refers to estheticians renewing their licenses by participating in extra training hours every so often. That's not to be confused with extra certifications, which teach and enable estheticians to provide specific high-level services not included in basic training programs.
Advanced Esthetics Training and Certification
Some states recognize two tiers of esthetician licensure: standard and master. Master estheticians complete all the standard training along with significant higher-level training that allows them to conduct additional services while giving them the best knowledge and skill set, in addition to keeping current with industry trends. Some estheticians might participate in extra training to obtain a specialized license, which some states require for procedures like microdermabrasion and chemical peels. In other cases, you might pursue more complete supplemental training.
The CIDESCO diploma, for example, bills itself as "the world's most prestigious qualification for aesthetics and beauty therapy which has set international standards since 1957" ("aesthetics" is a common alternate spelling). Diplomas at both the standard and post-graduate level are offered in categories like beauty therapy, media makeup, aromatherapy, spa therapy, makeup artistry, electrical epilation, and beauty and spa management. The National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors, and Associations (NCEA) also offers a prestigious credential that is comparable to the standards and education needed to achieve a master esthetician license.
For many licensed estheticians, the learning process never ends. Although all states require estheticians to renew their license periodically, several states – Florida, Texas, and Illinois, for example – require continued education in the form of extra training hours as a condition of renewing your license. The number of hours varies from state to state, although most require less than 10. You should also expect to pay a renewal fee, which, not surprisingly, varies by location.