Where Do Estheticians Get Paid the Most?
Where should you live if you want to reap the greatest financial reward as an esthetician? Annual salaries for esthetician range hugely depending on your skills or whether you’ve built your client business to charge top dollar, but cost of living in your town is undoubtedly one of the big reasons that esthetician pay varies.
In many major metro areas, the earning potential of an esthetician can look attractive, but no coincidence that those are also often the places where the cost of living is highest. What matters most to how well you can make a living is the earning potential of being an esthetician after cost of living is taken into account. A salary of $31,290 a year (the national median esthetician salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) buys an entirely different lifestyle in Buffalo than it does in Brooklyn.
BeautySchoolsDirectory.com has compiled data about salaries and cost of living to find the major cities in the U.S. where esthetician salaries are the highest relative to the cost of living.
Keep in mind, however, that a whole heap of factors can affect the wage you'll earn and the real living that wage will provide.
"If the clientele is wealthier, tips may be higher," said Bella Schneider, CEO and founder of LaBelle Day Spas and Salons in California and the formulator of Bella Schneider Beauty. "Larger cities may have more spas, but they may also have more competition."
The best place to work also depends on where you are in your career.
"When beginning in the field, a new esthetician should look for a city that has a well-known salon or spa that accepts new graduates as well as provides training," Schneider said. "So, it's a question of what the individual is looking for and where they are able to commit to for at least two years so they get experience under their belt."
20 Cities With the Highest Esthetician Salaries for the Cost of Living
#20: Nashville, Tennessee
Known across the world as Music City, Nashville has long been the beating heart of the American country music scene. Many country music stars call Nashville home. In their quest to look youthful and counteract the effects of bright lights and an abundance of face paint, many of these stars turn to estheticians to work their magic. As do some of the nearly 16 million visitors (in 2019) who want to look their best in their cowboy boots and Stetson hats.
Nashville is also a city on the rise. It has grown from 2,280 residents in 2006 to 13,000 in 2019—a population multiplier of nearly six in just 13 years. This rapid influx of people gives estheticians a larger pool of potential clients—which is never a bad thing!
Like Nashville, estheticians in Albany benefit from a steady flow of visitors passing through. It is, after all, the capital city of the Empire State. More than 4,000 visitors come to Albany County every day—many with access to corporate credit cards or government spending accounts—contributing nearly $1 billion to the local economy every year.
Aside from its many hotels, spas, and salons, Albany boasts a vibrant med-spa industry, where estheticians perform treatments that require physician supervision and that aren't available in traditional skin care settings. Such treatments include liquid facelifts, Botox, chemical peels, and dermal fillers, to name just a few.
Portland is home to one of the best esthetician schools in the country, the Beau Monde Academy of Cosmetology, as well a number of other well-known and highly-rated training centers. The big-name schools Aveda and Paul Mitchell both have esthetician programs in Portland.
The city also hosts several skin care-related events where you can network with other professionals, learn about the latest products and trends, and get your name out. One of the larger shows is the Oregon Esthetics Show, which took place in September 2019 and will be back in November 2020. Its Facebook page claims that it will become "the leading sales and education opportunity for salon and spa professionals in the Pacific NW." In 2020 Portland will host the 2020 Portland Women's Expo, sponsored by the Portland Beauty School and Stone Massage and Facial Spa, among others. Women can come to the expo to learn about the latest products and trends in health and beauty.
Portland is also close to what USA Today claims to be one of the top honeymoon destinations in the country—Cannon Beach. "Couples facials"—based on the concept of "couples massage"—are becoming more and more popular, and what better time to get one than on your honeymoon?
Although it's known around the world as Sin City, Las Vegas offers its 42 million annual visitors much more than just gambling and debauchery—and that's good news for local estheticians. Few cities in America depend more wholly on tourism than Vegas, and many of those tourists spend some of their vacation budgets on beauty services that are found not only in the many spas and salons around the city, but also at the high-end hotels and resorts that stay mostly full throughout the year.
Other visitors contribute to the industry indirectly simply by buying tickets to one of the many shows and productions on the Strip and beyond. Las Vegas is one of America's show business capitals, and the entertainment industry relies on armies of cosmetologists to keep their performers looking tip top. It's also a city that relies heavily on trade shows and conventions, and many of the most famous shows in the beauty industry take place there, including the International Esthetics, Cosmetics, and Spa Trade Show, the International Beauty Show, and Cosmoprof.
As a bonus, Sin City is the no. 1 wedding city in the U.S. (and no. 2 in the world), with an average of 114,000 weddings per year. More and more brides are adding skin care regimens to their list of to-dos in preparation for their magical day.
#16: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In July 2019, Philadelphia Magazine profiled the woman it called "Philly's Best Esthetician"—Viviane Aires of the famed Rescue Spa in Philadelphia's posh Rittenhouse neighborhood. Rescue Spa is far from alone in being a high-end spa in the city. The city's tourism bureau lists dozens of luxury spas that offer specialty esthetics services, many of which take place in spas located inside Philly's long list of high-end hotels.
Tourism is a boon to the beauty industry, and same as with so many other esthetician-friendly cities, Philly draws tourists from around the world. More than 43 million visitors traveled to Philadelphia last year, eager to glimpse its Colonial history, nightlife, famed restaurant scene, and, of course, its endless offerings of spa and salon services.
#15: Boston, Massachusetts
Boston and the surrounding area are known for academia, with Harvard, MIT, and B.U. being just a few of the many famed universities in and around the city. But Boston is also home to a huge variety of esthetician schools. Among them is one of the most renowned and respected in the country, the Elizabeth Grady School of Esthetics and Massage Therapy, located just 15 minutes away in Medford. The Elizabeth Grady Company is credited with successfully petitioning for esthetician training to be separated from cosmetology training in Massachusetts, which led to a national movement. Great esthetician training apparently creates great estheticians—the Spa at the Boston Harbor Hotel is consistently ranked among the finest skin care spas in America, and it's just one of several high-end destination spas in the city.
Apparently, many Bostonians also have a lot of money to spend. According to USA Today, in 2018 the metro area around Boston was the fifth wealthiest city in the United States and the second wealthiest in New England.
#14: Salt Lake City, Utah
The 10th season of the "Real Housewives" franchise is coming to Salt Lake City, although Bravo hasn't yet revealed when. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on speculation that the cast will include the owner of a skin care company and another who co-owns a cosmetic medical practice. In Salt Lake City, skin care is becoming hot!
Not only is esthetics hot in Utah's capital city, but the weather is, too—and dry. In fact, Salt Lake City is the fourth-driest city in America, according to CurrentResults.com. Dry skin is a curse to those who want their skin to be smooth and wrinkle-free—but it is a boon for estheticians.
Just 45 minutes south in Provo is Acaydia Spa and School of Aesthetics, which is considered one of the finest training centers in the country. There, students get hands-on training at the award-winning spa that's affiliated with the school. About 30 miles away in Park City is the Spa at Hotel Park City, which is ranked by the Zoe Report to be among the best spas in the country.
In terms of tourist destinations, no city in America can compete with Mickey Mouse's hometown of Orlando. Racking up a whopping 75 million visitors in 2018, Orlando once again holds the title of the most visited place in America. Only Las Vegas can claim more hotel rooms than the 120,000 that are scattered throughout America's No. 1 tourist destination, and many of those hotels offer spa services to soothe weary parents who spend their days at Disneyland doling out three-figure sums for lightsabers that cost 85 cents to make.
Among them is the Spa at Four Seasons, a day spa that the Travel Channel rates among the ten best spas in the entire country. It, like so many other Orlando spas, offers exotic and expensive treatments, such as a sweet and sticky healing honey treatment.
And just to confirm the fact that looking good is high on the list in Orlando, Shape magazine reports that the city has the most cosmetics and beauty supply stores per 100,000 residents in the country.
The beauty industry is buzzing in Seattle. The billion-dollar direct-to-consumer online beauty giant Glossier announced that it's moving into a physical space in Seattle, which also recently hosted the traveling House of Modern Beauty event. Seattle is also the home city of Herbivore, a startup whose natural skin care products just earned the budding company a $15 million fundraising haul.
Seattle is known for luxurious, high-end spas, including Recoop Spa, which the Zoe Report ranks as one of the best spas in America's major cities. According to Bella Schneider, "Service prices may be higher and product retail prices may be higher, pushing up the amount you will make."
With a host of tech industry jobs, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area boasts a median household income of just under $80,000. Some of that money is bound to wind up in your capable hands.
Billy Lowe is the founder of the Gloss and Toss product line and a beauty industry veteran with some impressive bona fides. His work providing professional salon services for private clients and organizations has landed him on the sets of commercials and movies, major product launches, and red-carpet events.
Even with all the Hollywood glamour on his resume, he makes a strong argument for places like Buffalo, which is relatively close geographically to the glitzy and global beauty mecca of New York City, but a considerable way off in terms of culture.
"What I will say about the larger cities in developing a career is that there's always a hustle and bustle," Lowe said. "There's always 'new and next' as opposed to 'comfortable and familiar.' As I've grown in my career, nothing sounds better than those two words."
Buffalo certainly has a more comfortable cost of living than its more celebrated neighbor to the south—in fact, it's the no. 10 cheapest metro in the entire country, according to MoneyCrashers. While it's not a top-tier destination city like Philly, Boston, or Vegas, it's certainly not some backwater, either. The Buffalo Niagara region is driving a record-breaking tourism boom not just in Erie County, but throughout all of Western New York.
Lowe summed it up neatly in saying, "The red carpet is wherever you put one."
San Antonio is known worldwide as the home of the Alamo, but Texas' most visited historic landmark is hardly the city's only draw. In fact, the economic impact of San Antonio tourism industry topped $15 billion when 37 million people visited the city in 2017. It's a bustling city with a vibrant downtown, an arts district, a river walk, countless cultural offerings, and a host of spas—so many that San Antonio's official tourism board has an entire page dedicated to them.
In addition to being home to some of the top spas in the country—including the La Cantera Resort and Spa, Mokara Spa, Windflower Spa, and the spa at Hilton San Antonio Hill Country—San Antonio is also a big-time training ground. There are more than a dozen schools and programs for aspiring estheticians, including the Ogle School, one of the top-ranked programs in the entire country.
If you want good skin, Tampa, Florida, unfortunately, is not one of the better places to live. According to WalletHub, the city's skin and healthcare rank is one of the lowest of the top 150 largest cities in the country. This makes for a strong demand for esthetician services.
Being a city on the water, Tampa residents are big on water sports and hitting the beach. Bathing suits and shorts are the norms in casual fashion. Baring those legs is a lot easier if you have an esthetician to remove unwanted hair or give you a tan that will help you avoid burning in the hot sun.
Another big sport in Tampa is golf. Its 100-plus golf courses include Saddlebrook Resort, which ranks among the nation's best tennis-and-golf resorts, and the two top-100 courses Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks. What better way to end a day of golf out in the hot sun than to get a soothing facial by a trained esthetician?!
Wisconsin is enjoying a golden age of tourism, with 2018 serving as the ninth straight year of growth in terms of both the number of visitors and the amount of money they spend. Tourism in Dane County, which includes Madison, accounts for 10% of all visitor spending across the entire state and supports 22,000 jobs. Of the $13.3 billion tourists spent in Wisconsin in 2018, $1.3 billion came from Dane County alone.
Wisconsin is famous for its often-unforgiving weather, and all that cold, dry air leaves many of Madison's visitors and locals alike craving some pampering and rejuvenation. Wisconsin is also famous for its cheese. It produces over 25% of the cheese made in the United States, and its cheeses regularly win awards for quality and taste. But turns out cheese isn’t the best thing for the complexion. According to marie claire, the dairy in cheese contains growth hormones that may cause acne. It's doubtful that people will stop eating cheese any time soon, however—which is good news for you!
Madison is a city obsessed with wellness, and estheticians have no shortage of places to drop off resumes. Among the finest are the Edgewater Spa, Indulge Spa, Kosa Spa, and Sundara Inn and Spa—and that list doesn't include the dozens of salons that call Madison home.
#7: Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis is the no. 2 least expensive city in America, according to MoneyCrashers, which came up with its ranking by crunching data like cost of living, property taxes, sales tax, transportation, and the cost of health care. The average esthetician salary of $33,550 goes a long way in Indy.
Also, for professionals like estheticians who thrive in tourist economies, Indianapolis is an underrated destination city. Nearly 29 million visitors pass through Indianapolis every year, spending $5.4 billion and supporting 81,600 jobs. Its list of renowned spas and salons that serve those tourists as well as Indy locals is long and impressive, including En Route Spa, Spa in the City, Transformations Salon and Spa, Wellness Origin Day Spa, Studio 2000 Salon and Day Spa, No. 7 Salon and Spa, a Place to Float, and Evan Todd Spa and Salon at Conrad Indianapolis.
The Arizona Ultimate Women's Expo is a star-studded event with an impressive lineup of celebrities on the bill, and it takes place in Phoenix. The Showcase the Arts Fashion and Beauty Expo happens in nearby Mesa. In fact, Phoenix and the surrounding area are teeming with industry trade shows and events. When estheticians work in a city that hosts lots of conferences and expos, there are of course opportunities for networking, but handing out cards and shaking hands are not the only benefits. Trade shows offer the opportunity to make some extra money with a side hustle that lets you sharpen your out-of-the-spa/salon skills at the same time—especially during your training or at the beginning of your career.
"While in school, an esthetician should already try to get some experience with a part-time job working for a cosmetic or makeup company to learn sales, how to put together a cosmetic protocol, and how to work with the public," Schneider said.
Located deep in the heart of the Southwest, Phoenix is the No. 2 driest city in America, according to CurrentResults.com, and extreme weather places a premium on skin care services. In addition, the surrounding areas of Scottsdale, Prescott, and Surprise are all on the top-25 list of cities with the highest percentage of senior citizens. Elderly skin requires special care, and many assisted living places are hiring estheticians to provide skin care for seniors.
#5: Minneapolis, Minnesota
In April 2017, City Pages profiled five beauty product lines started and based in Minnesota that were gaining traction as national heavyweights—two big, homegrown lipstick companies alone are based in Minneapolis. Almost exactly one year later, in April 2018, Twin Cities Business reported that Target was grooming ten beauty startups in the retail giant's Minneapolis Accelerator Program. It's clear that beauty is a big deal in this midwestern city.
Minneapolis is also a city of harsh winters. The state of Minnesota won the dubious honor of ranking no. 1 in the list of states with the most awful winters, according to Thrillist. Not only does this translate into rough, dry skin, it also leads people to seek the comfort of a spa.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington is also the only metro area in Midwest to rank among the wealthiest cities in the country. Harsh winters, money to spend—Minneapolitansmay just be some of the best esthetician clients in the country.
In May 2019, CBS Baltimore reported that for the first time in a very long time, the skin care industry was growing faster than the makeup industry. The abundance of spas with skin care services in the news organization's hometown of Baltimore bears testament to that claim. The Harbor East, Village of Cross Keys, and Mount Vernon neighborhoods are home to spas that are well-known across the region and the country. Among the finest are Neals, the Hair Studio and Day Spa, Red Door Spa Cross Keys, the Spa at the Four Seasons Baltimore, and Zenas Spa and Salon.
The scene is so entrenched, in fact, that Baltimore Magazine launched its very own Beauty Awards edition, which featured 35 Baltimore people, products, and places that make their native city proud. Among them are household names like the iconic Rosebud Salve, which has been flying off the shelves since 1895. There's also Charm City Skin, Ulta Beauty, CoverGirl, SoBotanical, and Royal Plush.
#3: Colorado Springs, Colorado
The region in and around Colorado Springs is one of the epicenters of America's booming med-spa industry. Ali McCoy-Stengel, an RN, LME, BSN, licensed paramedical esthetician and the founder and owner of Always Beautiful Medical Aesthetics & Cosmetics in nearby Aurora, is in the center of it all.
"Colorado is attractive in general because it has 300-plus days of sunshine," she said. "People either need help repairing the damage they've already caused and/or help protecting their skin. Additionally, Colorado residents generally rank high in terms of health consciousness, meaning people seek out the services an esthetician provides."
It also doesn't hurt that the region's culture of health and wellness tends to come with enough disposable income to back it up.
"There are many pockets throughout the Denver suburban area which contain a high concentration of well-established and growing developments with affluent residents," McCoy-Stengel said.
#2: Raleigh, North Carolina
A recent analysis named Raleigh as the no. 2 best tech city in all of America—it is, after all, part of the famed "Research Triangle," which according to Forbes is one of "the country's largest and most successful research parks and a major center in the U.S. for high-tech and biotech research." The Downtown District alone is home to more than 48,000 employees, and Downtown Raleigh has sponged up more than $3 billion in investment since 2005.
All this is good news for the city, and Raleigh is indeed on the way up. Not only is it one of the fastest-growing cities in North Carolina and the country, with the addition of nearly 17,000 new residents in the last five years, it is also one of the wealthiest metro areas in the country, according to USA Today. The massive influx of new residents—disproportionately well-paid professionals—new businesses, and new money have been a bonus for beauty professionals. The city's tourism bureau lists no fewer than 61 spas, salons, medispas, and wellness centers, virtually all of which employ estheticians. Raleigh is also home to dozens of cosmetology training centers, several of which are among the best in the region.
With average annual pay creeping toward $56,000, Boise boasts some of the best-paid estheticians in America. It's also an "esthetician-friendly" place to work. Paul Mitchell the School, which maintains a location in Boise, recently reported on a piece of legislation that went into effect in 2018 that allows estheticians and other beauty professionals much broader latitude in what services they can offer and where they can offer them. This deregulation has already proven to be a huge windfall for skin care professionals there, those who freelance as independent contractors.
Boise is home to a booming beauty industry. In 2017, three Boise women formed a company called Red Aspen, which now offers more than 150 beauty products. The city is also home to the Oliver Finley Academy of Cosmetology, a regionally renowned training school. Boise Image Enhancement Med Spa is just one of the medical-beauty hybrid locations that pepper the city, and TripAdvisor lists more than a dozen highly rated spas, salons, and wellness centers that offer esthetician services.
How We Created the List: Data Sources and Methodology
The BeautySchoolsDirectory.com team pulled cost of living data for 41 major U.S. cities from Numbeo.com as of December 2019. We assumed costs for a single person renting housing in that city and used the same profile of spending assumptions across all cities. We then pulled annual mean wage data for estheticians (updated May 2018, the latest available as of the publishing of this study) by metro area from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For each city where data was available for both cost of living and average earnings, we calculated the ratio of earnings to cost of living. Finally, we ranked the cities in descending order of this ratio, where higher average income relative to cost of living was more desirable.