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Differences Between an Esthetician and a Medical Esthetician

Esthetics > Esthetician vs. Medical Esthetician: What's the Difference?


If you aren’t totally clear on the differences between estheticians and medical estheticians, have no fear: you are not alone. Estheticians—sometimes spelled aestheticians—perform routine skin care services such as cleansing, massaging, toning, and hair removal. Medical or “paramedical” estheticians perform many of the same tasks as estheticians. However, these professionals tend to have additional training that allows them to perform specialized treatments and work in clinical settings.

Rather than solely helping individuals address minor issues like dry skin or sunspots, medical estheticians typically work with those facing serious skin disorders or traumas, like post-burn care or plastic surgery recovery. Estheticians often work in spa and salon settings, while medical estheticians can be found in plastic surgeon’s offices or rehabilitation centers.

While there is a lot of overlap between esthetician and medical esthetician careers, there are important distinctions to consider, including licensure requirements, training, jobs, and salary potential.

Can I get Licensed in Medical Esthetics?

While you must be licensed as a general esthetician to practice, no specialized licenses currently exist for medical estheticians. If you want to become a medical esthetician, the most standard route involves obtaining a general esthetics license and seeking additional training and certifications in areas of interest, like microblading and chemical peels. Not all states require certification for many specific services performed by medical estheticians, so check with your licensing board when you choose your path.

Classes Taken by Esthetician Candidates

Estheticians generally must complete at least 600 hours of training to qualify for licensure, with specific hour requirements varying by state. Over the course of your studies, you’ll likely take classes on skin conditions and disorders, salon management, facial cleansing and massages, and hair removal.

Coursework and Potential Certifications for Medical Estheticians

Esthetics training programs introduce you to various topics around skin care, hygiene, facial massage, makeup, and sanitation. As each state sets its own requirements, you must check with your licensing board to learn about specific mandates. One important thing to note is that, regardless of location, no esthetician may perform Botox, dermal filling, or anything that is considered “medical” rather than “cosmetic.” Individuals providing these services generally must possess a nursing license, but specific regulations vary by state.

While medical estheticians can’t perform medical treatments, many courses involve training in medical related services. Medical esthetician training courses can include:

  • Permanent makeup: This procedure involves using permanent or semi-permanent pigments to provide lip color/tinting, eyeliner, eyebrow filling, and other types of makeup. The growing field of microblading is often under this umbrella.
  • Pre- and post-surgical skincare: Typically used for individuals who experience skin trauma due to burns, abrasions, or other types of damage, medical estheticians provide cleansing procedures and instructions on keeping skin disinfected and healthy.
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): MLD is used to drain lymph nodes, increase blood flow, and support circulation. Medical estheticians provide MLD services to those with lymphedema.
  • Advanced hair removal: Designed for individuals who want to permanently remove hair from specific parts of their body, this technique uses lasers and intense pulsed light to keep follicles from growing. As these treatments are often considered medical instead of cosmetic, medical estheticians may assist doctors and laser technicians rather than operate the lasers directly.
  • Eyelash extensions: This service involves attaching synthetic eyelashes using a semi-permanent glue. Estheticians must be able to match the thickness, color, and curvature of existing eyelashes and perform regular touch-ups.

Medical Esthetician and Traditional Esthetician Careers

When considering medical esthetician vs. esthetician careers, it’s helpful to have a better sense of what each path offers and the job duties they may entail.

Medical Esthetician Careers

Cosmetic Medical Esthetician: These types of medical estheticians often work in hospital or rehabilitation settings to help patients seeking assistance with their appearance after dealing with illness or trauma. They may teach burn victims how to care for delicate skin, help those undergoing chemotherapy find suitable wigs, or provide options for individuals with facial deformities.

Medical Spa Esthetician: Working in these settings allows you to improve both your clients’ confidence and their health. Typical responsibilities include performing chemical peels, correcting discolorations, addressing sun damage, removing unwanted tattoos, and cauterizing varicose veins.

Medical Esthetician Training Inspector: After working in direct client services for a while, you may want to shift directions. Working as a training inspector involves visiting medical spas, rehabilitation facilities, and other employers of medical estheticians to ensure all regulations are carefully followed.

Esthetician Careers

Spa Esthetician: Whether working in salons or spas, these estheticians perform routine skincare services for a variety of clients. Everyday tasks include facials, massages, skin peels and resurfacing, hair removal, and product recommendations.

Beauty Educator: An excellent fit for someone who wants to move around during their workday, beauty educators visit salons, spas, and other skincare settings to train both estheticians and their clients on specific products. They often work for skincare product companies and use their knowledge of esthetics to explain how particular products can support healthy and clear skin.

Esthetician Training Teacher: If you’re ready to leave the world of client care, teaching can be a great way to continue using your esthetics knowledge without having direct interaction with those seeking skin care treatments. Esthetician teachers generally work at cosmetology schools and other training facilities to prepare the next generation of estheticians.

Esthetician vs. Medical Esthetician: Salary and Career Outlook

As you review the following table, remember that estheticians and medical estheticians alike can hold a variety of different jobs that lead to different salaries. Your experience and place of residence can affect these numbers, too. For a better sense of pay in your local area, research esthetician job openings near you and compare the stated wages.

  Medical/Paramedical Estheticians Estheticians
Highest Paying Industry General Medical and Surgical Hospitals Personal Services
Average Annual Salary $46,020 $40,300
Highest Paying Metro Area San Francisco, CA Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA*

*Includes all estheticians

As of 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median hourly wage for an esthetician working in physician offices was $19.35/hour, while those employed by health care locations took home $13.73/hour. General data on skin care specialists show that jobs for these professionals are set to grow by 11% in the coming decade (O*NET, 2018).

Familiarizing yourself with some of these differences between an esthetician and medical esthetician can help you determine the right education and career path for you. For more information to help you make an informed decision, check out our other pages on esthetician schools, esthetician careers, and how to become a medical esthetician.

Career Outlook
Info based on National Averages. Enter zip and program for more exact details.
Hours-required: 1600 Education and hands-on training
Licence Renewal Hours: 1000 Hands-on training
Certification Needed: Cosmetology
State Board Contact:E: barbercosmo@dca.ca.gov P: 1.800.952.5210
Average Salary: $28,770 Annually
Job Outlook: 20% increase Between 2012 - 2022
What do you love most about beauty school?
The connections. All of the girls are so close, they are great. The teachers are awesome and have so many connections and will help you get your career started.
How do you like beauty school?
I love it, it’s a lot of fun! It makes it easier when it’s something you are passionate about. It’s so fun to go to school and always trying new things. They give you plenty time to do you homework at school too!
Can you describe a typical day?

Arrive at 8am and prep for appointments starting at 8:45.

You could have 4-5 appointments in one day doing facials, makeup, skin treatments, waxing, brows, lash tinting. My favorite part is if you don’t have appointments you can do treatments on each other! We give each other facials, makeup and the nail girls do our nails, etc! It’s so fun and we are never bored!

What’s it like juggling work and school?

I work two jobs. It can be busy but I map out the week and it keeps me out of trouble.

What would you tell someone thinking about enrolling?

Just do it! I was pretty nervous at first. I doubted myself b/c I have never been in a program I felt I could succeed. The support and encouragement of the other ladies in the class and seeing how intelligent the teachers were eased my worries. It’s a fun experience! There weren’t “know it all’s” in the class. Everyone is eager to learn and help each other.

Do you feel confident getting a job after school?

Yes! I feel confident and qualified. The teachers are great and positive. They want to set up you for success.

What inspires you?

Instagram. I could scroll all day long. I love art, makeup, clothes, house decor. I love going to Sephora and seeing all the makeup and think about the possible ways to do different things.

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