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Industry • Perspective

What Is an Esthetician? What Every Spa Owner (and Client) Should Know

The difference between essential esthetician and aesthetician roles in the spa industry is more than just spelling

The spa industry continues its impressive rebound after recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, with a projected market valuation of $133 billion by 2027. As a result, you may have noticed a dramatic uptick in reservations over the past few months and are likely looking to bring a new esthetician on staff to serve your new clients. Or is that aesthetician?

The names and job descriptions of estheticians and aestheticians look (and sound) very similar, but they perform two different — and vital — roles within the beauty industry. Read on to learn more about what an esthetician is, how they differ from aestheticians, what services they provide, and the requirements for employment.

What is an esthetician?

An esthetician is a licensed skin-care professional specializing in facial care and treatment who performs a wide array of services like massages, skin cleaning, and maintenance. Estheticians also focus on holistic wellness techniques like aromatherapy, and make beauty product recommendations for improving skin health at home.

Are estheticians and aestheticians the same?

While the two roles are similar, they’re not quite the same. Generally speaking, an aesthetician provides medical or clinical treatments, like laser hair or tattoo removal. On the other hand, an esthetician provides cosmetic services, like facials and skin cleaning. 

Both positions require licensing to practice their respective fields legally, but treatments allowed by that license vary from state to state. For example, the Nuvani Institute explains that services like laser hair removal or skin resurfacing are considered medical treatments and must be performed by a licensed medical professional. Estheticians also cannot medically diagnose skin conditions or prescribe medication.

It’s important to note that the terms esthetician and aesthetician are often used interchangeably — some organizations even refer to clinical practitioners as medical estheticians — as the roles have some overlap. Consult your state’s board of cosmetology to see how your state breaks down the services each role provides.

What services does an esthetician provide?

Because estheticians are only licensed to treat the superficial layers of the skin, their work focuses on the following beauty, cosmetic, and wellness services: 

  • Facial treatments, including cleansing, exfoliation, mask application, and hydration

  • Massages for the face and scalp

  • Pore cleansing and extraction to reduce acne

  • Hair removal (non-medical procedures like waxing, threading, and tweezing)

  • Aromatherapy to promote relaxation, stress-relief, and holistic wellness

  • Makeup application

  • Light therapy to aid in tissue repair

  • Pre- and post-clinical treatment and care

  • Product recommendationsand demonstration to promote skin health and wellness at home

Aestheticians (or medical estheticians) provide a similar set of services but often require medical training and licensure to perform them. Examples include:

  • Laser care, including hair removal and skin resurfacing

  • Permanent makeup and hair application, like eyeliner and eyelash extensions

  • Draining lymph nodes to increase blood flow

Where do estheticians work?

Estheticians generally work in non-medical locations, including:

  • Salons

  • Day spas

  • Hotels and resorts

  • Cruise liners

  • Boutiques

  • Fitness centers

  • Other relaxation centers

Aestheticians and medical estheticians can be found in medically-focused locations, like health centers, clinics, hospitals, and medical spas.

Esthetician training and licensing requirements

Each state’s licensing requirements are different, so consult your state’s board of cosmetology for specific information. In most cases, practicing aestheticians will at least need the following to provide services in the United States legally:

  • High school diploma or GED equivalent

  • Completion of a training program: Program requirements and hours completed can vary dramatically depending on the state. Some may require completion of a state-approved cosmetology program of esthetics or an associate’s degree in cosmetology, while others may only require completion of an apprenticeship program. 

  • Earn an esthetician license: Before being granted an esthetician license, one must complete a written and practical examination provided by the state’s cosmetology board. 

  • Maintain license: Typically, an esthetician license will remain valid for a few years, so estheticians will need to regularly renew their license with the state’s board of cosmetology. Depending on the state, estheticians may be required to complete a certain number of hours of additional training to renew.

Estheticians with several years of experience can advance their careers by becoming an instructor at cosmetology schools or opening their own spas. Some states also offer master esthetician licensing, which provides more intensive training in advanced condition assessment and treatment.

Want more tips on how to run your spa (without running yourself ragged)? This guide can help

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