How To Become A Licensed Esthetician

How To Become An Esthetician
min read
November 9, 2021

According to recent data from ResearchAndMarkets, the value of the global cosmetic skincare market is set to hit an astounding $185.5 billion by 2027. That’s a lot of opportunity—and if you want to get in on that opportunity, one career path you may want to consider? Becoming an esthetician.

Esthetics offers skincare enthusiasts a huge variety of career opportunities, from performing facials in a high-end spa to assisting plastic surgeons in prepping a client’s skin for a procedure to making skincare product recommendations for a shopper looking to restore a radiant, youthful glow to their complexion.

But how, exactly, do you get started as a skincare professional—and what kind of opportunities (both career and financial) can you expect as a licensed esthetician?

What Does an Esthetician Do?

First things first—before we jump into how to become an esthetician, let’s quickly cover what, exactly, estheticians do.

Estheticians (sometimes spelled aestheticians) are skincare specialists that provide a variety of services related to skincare. This includes a variety of skin treatments, including:

Estheticians also work with their clients to develop skincare routines to target the client’s skincare concerns and may recommend skin care products to help them achieve their goals (for example, clearing up acne, improving skin hydration, or diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles). 

While estheticians are primarily skin care professionals, many also pursue other forms of cosmetology so they can offer complementary services to their clients, including makeup application or hair styling.

What’s the Process for Becoming an Esthetician?

So, now that you know what an esthetician does, let’s talk about how to actually become an esthetician.

Step 1: Get Training

Every state in the US requires estheticians to secure a license before they can begin providing skincare services. While licensing requirements vary by state, most states have strict education requirements that require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED and complete at least 600 hours of training through an approved esthetics program. These esthetician programs are offered in a variety of settings, including cosmetology schools, community colleges, and specific esthetician schools and typically take around six months to complete. They feature coursework and practical learning that prepares estheticians to practice after graduation, including education on proper sanitation practices, different skin types, and a variety of skincare treatments and procedures.

Step 2: Take the Exam

Once a candidate has completed their esthetician training, they can apply for a licensure through their state. While some states have their own state licensing exam, most defer to the national exam developed by the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology. 

The NIC exam is made up of two parts—a theory exam (which is the written part of the exam) and a practical exam. The theory exam consists of two parts, the first of which is Scientific Concepts, which accounts for 55 percent of the test score. The Scientific Concepts tests knowledge of different concepts related to the aesthetics industry, including:

The second part of the theory exam, which accounts for 45 percent of the test score, is Skin Care and Services and aims to test the exam taker’s understanding of skin care and client service-related issues, including:

The practical exam is the hands-on part of the NIC exam—and requires exam taker’s to physically demonstrate their ability to perform nine “core domain services,” including:

In order to secure an esthetician license, candidates must pass both the written and practical parts of the exam. Medical estheticians are also required to pass an additional exam in order to be able to perform complex skincare procedures in a medical setting. Once an applicant passes their licensing exam and secures their license, they’re officially considered an esthetician—and can start working in the skincare industry.

Step 3: Complete Your Continuing Education In Esthetics

As mentioned, once you secure your license, you can start offering esthetics services and working in the skincare industry. But, depending on where you live, you may need to invest in continuing education in order to keep your license active. Check with your state’s licensing office for continuing education requirements—and make sure to fulfill those requirements before applying for license renewal.

Esthetics License vs. Cosmetology License

One question many people considering a career in esthetics have is “what’s the difference between an esthetics license and a cosmetology license?”

A cosmetology license is significantly more comprehensive than an esthetics license; while getting an esthetics license is focused on skincare, students studying for a cosmetology license will generally cover the same esthetics training—as well as training in other areas of the beauty industry, including hair styling, hair cutting, hair coloring, and nail services.

Because they cover more ground, cosmetology programs take significantly longer to complete; according to data from Indeed, it takes people, on average, four to five years to complete cosmetology school, training, and licensure (including internships)—which is a much bigger investment than the ~600 training hours necessary to take the esthetics licensing exam.

Bottom line? Getting an esthetician license qualifies you to provide esthetics and skin-care related services—while a cosmetology license opens the door to a wider variety of service offerings, including hair and nails.

What Kind of Career Opportunities are Available for Licensed Estheticians?

One of the biggest draws of becoming an esthetician is the wide variety of career opportunities available once you’re licensed. There are opportunities for estheticians to work in a wide variety of settings, both within and outside of the beauty industry, including:

Estheticians can also branch out on their own and start their own business in the skincare industry—which offers the freedom and flexibility that might appeal to more entrepreneurial people.

How Much Do Estheticians Make?

So, now for the big question: how much do estheticians make?

And the answer is—it depends.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the median pay for a skincare specialist was $16.39 per hour (or $34,090 per year). But that’s certainly not the financial cap for a career in esthetics; according to data from Indeed, the salary range for an esthetician can go up to $55.80 per hour.

How much you make as an esthetician depends on a variety of factors, including:


Pros and Cons of Esthetics—And How to Determine if a Career as an Esthetician is Right For You

Like any other career path, there are pros and cons associated with becoming an esthetician—and before you decide to move forward with a career in the esthetics industry, it’s important to understand those pros and cons, how they’ll influence your experience, and whether becoming an esthetician is the right fit for you and your long-term goals.

So, what are the pros and cons of esthetics—and how can you weigh those pros and cons to determine whether a career as an esthetician is the right fit for you?



Questions to Ask Yourself to Determine Whether Becoming an Esthetician is the Right Career Path For You

Clearly, there are benefits and challenges to becoming an esthetician—and only you can decide if the pros outweigh the cons. If you’re not sure if a career in esthetics is right for you, some questions you may want to ask yourself include:


Tips For Finding Success in the Esthetics Industry

Convinced that a career as an aesthetician is right for you? Here are a few tips to help you get started and find success as a skincare specialist:


Get Out There and Explore a Career as an Esthetician

The skin industry is booming with opportunity. And now that you know the steps necessary to become an esthetician, you have everything you need to get your foot in the door—and start seizing that opportunity for yourself.

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