Esthetician: Career Overview, Salary, and Training
Are you passionate about skin care? If you want to launch a career focused on making people feel great about themselves and helping them overcome skin issues, becoming a licensed esthetician might be an ideal career path.
Estheticians are the ultimate experts in all things skin care. They offer clients a range of procedures and treatments, from relaxing facials and beautifying masks to peels and abrasions that can help reduce scarring, acne, and a range of other common complaints.
If you think working as an esthetician sounds like a dream job, read on for details on how to obtain your esthetician’s license, how much you could earn in esthetics, esthetician job outlook data, and more.
What Does an Esthetician Do?
Estheticians work with clients to treat, revitalize, and improve their skin, often focusing on the face, neck, and scalp. This can include a large range of various treatments, from indulgent massages, cleanses, and facials to complex procedures such as microdermabrasion, exfoliation, and chemical peels.
In some salons, estheticians may decide to branch out and perform non-skin care treatments such as waxes and eyebrow tinting and shaping, or newer, more high-tech procedures, including LED light treatments and oxygen therapy.
While many estheticians work in salons and spas, those aren’t the only settings for this exciting beauty career. Licensed estheticians can also work in medical settings such as doctor’s offices and hospitals, high-end spas and resorts, cruise ships, and even massage therapy practices and plastic surgery offices.
Esthetician vs. Cosmetologist: What’s the Difference?
While estheticians and cosmetologists often work in similar settings with several overlapping job tasks, there are subtle differences between the careers. Cosmetologists offer a wide range of beauty treatments and services, from haircutting, hairstyling, and dyeing, to manicures and pedicures, skin care, and even massage. Typically, they spend the majority of their time providing haircare services, with less time dedicated to other areas.
Estheticians focus solely on skin-related treatments, such as facials, cleansing, exfoliation, and more. Because of this focus, estheticians undergo specialized training in the anatomy and physiology of the skin, ingredient chemistry, skin care techniques, and other advanced topics.
While cosmetologists can provide many of the same treatments as estheticians, cosmetology training often requires more time and hours. If you want to work solely as an esthetician and don’t want haircare training, you can complete a specific esthetics program in fewer hours and obtain the relevant license.
Cosmetology/Esthetician Crossover Licenses
If you’ve already trained as a cosmetologist and hold a current cosmetology license, you may be able to fast-track your esthetician training with a crossover license. This type of program takes your existing knowledge and builds upon it, allowing you to gain an additional license in less time than it would take if you were starting from scratch.
For example, Cerritos College in Los Angeles offers a cosmetology to esthetician crossover program, allowing existing cosmetology licensees to develop the esthetic skills and theoretical knowledge needed to obtain an esthetician’s license in just 200 hours—compared to 600 hours if taken without a cosmetology license.
How to Become an Esthetician: Training and Licensing
To work as an esthetician and perform skin care services and treatments, you must complete an esthetics program and earn an esthetician license. Completing a comprehensive esthetics program ensures you are fully trained and can offer your clients a high level of service.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Esthetician?
The amount of time it takes to complete an esthetics program and obtain licensure varies from state to state. For example, in Oregon, you only need to complete around 700 training hours to gain your license—whereas students in Georgia must complete at least 1,000 hours before they can qualify. Although estheticians used to be able to practice without a license in Connecticut, as of 2020, the Department of Public Health requires 600 hours of approved esthetics training.
Some states also allow estheticians to get their license through apprenticeships, which take longer to complete due to the on-the-job nature of the training. For example, in Alabama, apprentices must complete 2,000 hours of training to be eligible for licensure, compared to just 1,000 hours for regular esthetician students.
Esthetician Training: Coursework and Curriculum
During your program, you’ll cover a wide range of topics relevant to working as an esthetician, many of which focus on skin care techniques and treatments. You’ll also cover other important related concepts such as sanitation and hygiene, human physiology, your local state laws and regulations, and even basic business skills such as marketing, finances, and customer service.
Esthetician programs combine a mixture of theoretical (written) and practical (hands-on) learning. The theoretical lessons normally take place in a classroom setting, though some may be online. The practical part of the course typically occurs within your school’s on-site salon, where you’ll have the opportunity to interact with real clients and practice actual treatments under the supervision of instructors.
Steps to Getting an Esthetician License
Once you’ve completed an esthetician program and accrued the required amount of training hours needed in your state, you are ready to apply for your esthetician license.
First, you’ll need to register with your local state licensing body or board and submit all the necessary prerequisites, such as ID documents, details of your program or apprenticeship, and proof that you’ve completed your required training hours.
Next, you’ll need to take the relevant examinations. These vary from state to state, but most require you to take both written and practical exams, which you’ll need to pass to get your license. Some states administer their own licensing exams, whereas others use those developed by the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC).
It’s essential that professional estheticians continue their education and stay up to date with new techniques and developments in the beauty world. You’ll need to renew your license periodically, and you might need to complete ongoing education requirements.
Esthetician Salary and Job Outlook
The projected career outlook for estheticians is extremely positive, with an expected 29% job growth nationwide between 2020-2030—much faster than average for all other occupations.
Some states with high projected employment growth estimates include:
- Colorado (20%)
- District of Columbia (20%)
- South Dakota (20%)
- Utah (38%)
- Washington (23%)
How Much Do Estheticians Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), estheticians in the U.S. earned average annual salaries of $41,230, or $19.82 per hour, in 2020. The top 10% of estheticians earned $64,610 or more. Average esthetician wages are significantly higher than their colleagues in similar careers such as cosmetology and barbering.
The amount that you can earn as an esthetician varies, depending on the types of skin care services you offer, your level of experience, and the environment you work in. Geographical location can also affect the amount an esthetician can earn. The top five highest-earning states for estheticians in 2020 were:
- Colorado ($58,480)
- Washington ($56,940)
- Hawaii ($54,450)
- Connecticut ($52,740)
- Oklahoma ($52,510)
In general, esthetician salaries in metropolitan areas are higher than in more rural, nonmetropolitan areas. These were the top-paying metro areas and their average salaries for skin care specialists in 2020:
- Olympia-Tumwater, WA ($117,340)
- Waterbury, CT ($83,930)
- Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO ($69,790)
- Killeen-Temple, TX ($65,020)