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:
- Chemical Peels
- Physical and Chemical Exfoliation Treatments
- Custom Facials
- Body Treatments
- Waxing and other hair removal techniques (like threading)
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:
- Infection Control and Proper Safety Protocols
- Human Physiology and Anatomy
- Skin Disorders and Diseases
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:
- Client Consultations and Documentation
- Skin Analysis
- Understanding of Different Skin Care Procedures (Steaming, Extractions, Mask Application, etc.)
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:
- Work Area Preparation for First Client (First Appointment of the Day) and Set Up of Supplies
- Client Preparation and Basic Facial
- Work Area Preparation for New Client (Second Appointment of the Day) and Set Up of Supplies
- New Client Preparation and Hair Removal of the Eyebrows (Simulated Soft Wax and Tweezing)
- Facial Makeup
- Blood Exposure Procedure
- Forehead Particle Microdermabrasion
- Eyelash Enhancement
- Hair Removal of the Upper Lip (Hard Wax)
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:
- At a Beauty Salon. Many beauty or hair salons have estheticians on staff to offer skincare treatments and hair removal services to their clients.
- In Retail Locations. Retail locations that sell skincare products (like department stores or beauty-focused boutiques) often employ estheticians to answer client questions and help them choose the best skincare products for their complexion.
- In Plastic Surgeons or Dermatologists Offices. Medical estheticians work in medical settings, like a plastic surgeon or dermatologist’s office, where they offer complex skincare treatments like chemical peels, laser treatments, and treatments tailored to prep a patient’s skin for a procedure/surgery (or to help them recover from a procedure/surgery).
- At a Wellness Spa. Facials and body treatments are a cornerstone of any quality spa’s service menu—which makes spas an ideal place for estheticians.
- On Cruise Ships or in Hotels. Many people like to treat themselves to skin treatments while they travel—and, as such, travel-related locations (like a cruise ship or hotel) can be a great place for an esthetician to work.
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:
- Experience. Experienced estheticians generally make more money than recent graduates just getting started in the industry.
- Location. Estheticians who live in large cities or areas with a higher cost of living generally make a higher wage than skincare professionals living in smaller towns or more affordable areas.
- Place of Employment. Where you choose to work can also play a big role in how much you make as an esthetician; for example, if you work in a high-end salon that charges a high fee for esthetic services, you would likely make more than if you worked at a beauty salon with lower rates. Medical skincare professionals, who perform more complex procedures, command higher salaries than estheticians who work in day spas or salons.
- Services Offered. Generally, the more complex the service, the more you can charge clients—and the more you’ll make as a result. So, for example, skincare professionals will make more money offering chemical peels and microdermabrasion than they would eyebrow threading and makeup application.
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?
- Variety of Job Opportunities... With many career paths, you’re limited in the types of jobs and opportunities you can pursue. But as an esthetician, you can explore a variety of job opportunities—whether that’s working in a salon, working in a dermatologist’s office, or opening your own business.
- ...and a Variety of Job Duties. Similarly, with many jobs, you’re stuck doing the same thing day in and day out. As an esthetician, you can switch up the services you offer, which can add more variety into your work experience (for example, you might spend half the day focused on waxing and the other half focused on facial treatments)—which can help keep things fresh and exciting.
- Consistent Demand. Most people are consistent with their beauty and skin treatments; for example, if a person gets their eyebrows done, they’re likely to continue seeing their esthetician on a regular basis to maintain their eyebrow shape—and consistent clients means a consistent income for estheticians.
- Challenging Schedule. Many people schedule their esthetic treatments—whether that’s an eyebrow wax or a facial—when they’re off work. That means estheticians typically need to work nights and weekends if they want to develop a significant client base—a schedule that can prove challenging for a lot of people.
- Low Starting Salary. There is money to be made in esthetics—but generally, you need to have experience in order to make that money. The relatively low starting salary can be a downside for a lot of people pursuing a career as an esthetician.
- Competition. As mentioned, skincare is a huge—and growing!—industry. That means there’s likely to be a lot of people pursuing a career in esthetics—and that competition can make it harder to find a job and build a client base.
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:
- Will I be happy working an unconventional schedule? Some people thrive working unconventional schedules while others struggle. Before you decide to pursue a career as an esthetician, make sure that you’re comfortable working nights and weekends—when people who work 9 to 5 will want to get their treatments.
- Do I have the drive to build a steady, consistent client base? It takes time and energy to build a steady, committed client base as an esthetician. Make sure you’re willing to invest the time and energy necessary to get your following as an esthetician off the ground.
- Where do I want to work? As mentioned, there are a huge variety of job opportunities within in the esthetics industry. As you’re considering a career as an esthetician, think about where you’d like to work—and what kind of opportunities there are for estheticians within that kind of work environment.
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:
- Think About Your Long-Term Career Goals. As mentioned, there are a huge variety of opportunities in esthetics—so before you get too far into the process, it’s important to think about your long-term career goals. For example, if you plan to work in a salon, you may consider studying esthetics at a cosmetology school—and also exploring the school’s other offerings (like makeup) so you can offer other services to your clients. If you want to work in a medical setting, it’s important to choose a training program that offers the training necessary to pass the medical exam, which is more complex than the standard test.
- Research Esthetics Programs Before Making a Commitment. While requirements vary by state, all states have educational requirements that require you to complete a certain number of hours before you can apply for your license—so before you commit to a program, make sure it’s approved with your state and will allow you to apply for licensure when you graduate.
- Focus on Providing the Highest Level of Service to Clients. People seek out esthetic services for a variety of reasons, whether they want to relax, deal with a particular skincare concern, or get recommendations on skin care products. But whatever the reason, they want to work with someone they like trust—so, as an esthetician, it’s important to deliver the highest level of service to each of your customers.
- Explore Continuing Education. Skincare is an evolving industry—and if you want to be (and stay) successful as an esthetician, it’s important to continually educate yourself and stay on top of new developments, treatments, and services in the skin care industry.
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.