What is an Esthetician—and How Is It Different From a Dermatologist?
We're clearing up the great skincare debate once and for all.
In case you didn’t know, there are actually two types of skin appointments: those that fall under self-care—like a lavish facial or pre-vacay bikini wax—and those that are more critical to your overall health (think: annual skin check). So who exactly are these people who help you get your skin in shipshape, whether it’s for a special occasion or a standard check up? Yep, we’re talking about estheticians and dermatologists—and no, they’re not the same thing.
If you’re as confused as we are (guilty!) and wondering when you should see one specialist over the other, we asked two experts to clarify exactly what an esthetician can do for your skin—plus, how to find a credible esthetician, what types of procedures and pricing to expect, and the best at-home tips for maintaining your newly serviced skin.
What is an esthetician, anyway?
An esthetician is essentially a person who has attended cosmetician school, passed a state board licensing exam, and is qualified to deliver a facial, face or body waxing service, or makeup application, explains Stacy Cox, an esthetician and Finishing Touch Flawless Skincare Expert. Although it differs between states, certified training ranges from 300 to 1500 hours, says Manon Pilon, author, renowned skin care educator, and formulator for Nelly De Vuyst. And licensing has to be renewed periodically, and in some states, post-graduate classes have to be taken to brush up on protocols, Cox adds.
Estheticians are trained to work on the very top layer of skin (aka the epidermis) and help clients with issues that run the gamut from wrinkles to acne, Cox tells Health. In school, they learn skin histology— how the skin functions as both an organ and a system in the body—anatomy, skin types and conditions, and how to identify when something is beyond their level of education and should be referred to a dermatologist, adds Cox. Estheticians also practice the proper way to deliver facials, face or body waxes, and makeup application, and learn how to ensure a client is safe and protected throughout a treatment.
Are estheticians really that different from dermatologists?
Dermatologists attend undergrad, medical school, and participate in a residency program, which in total could take almost 12 years of training to complete in order to become a licensed physician. Estheticians, on the other hand, are not medically trained or licensed physicians.
“While estheticians are limited to the top layer of skin, a dermatologist is trained to also go below the skin surface and diagnose skin conditions and diseases,” says Cox. If an esthetician comes across a suspicious-looking mole that could be skin cancer, they will recommend you see a dermatologist. Dermatologists also have the ability to administer prescriptions and medicine to treat a wide range of skin concerns, she continues.
How do you find a credible esthetician
When searching for an esthetician, Cox suggests starting by word of mouth and asking friends and family members if they have any recommendations. Then, browse online for skincare clinics in your area and review their websites and service menus to see if anything excites you, or use sites like Yelp to read reviews. Don’t feel limited to the internet, either: If there’s a clinic near your neighborhood or office, stop in and ask if you can view the treatment room to get a feel for the space.
Once you reach out to book an appointment, ask questions about their years of experience, as well as if they specialize in one area, like acne-prone skin or anti-aging skincare. And don’t be nervous to ask to see their license (although it’s required by law to post it in plain view), and make sure you feel comfortable and safe before committing to an appointment, says Cox.
Should you see an esthetician?
Okay, you’re on the fence on whether you should visit an esthetician. Who’s the ideal candidate? One word: Everyone. Whether you’re a teenager with hormonal breakouts or a senior citizen with dryness and wrinkles, it’s an esthetician’s job to service your skin. From offering deep facial cleanses and massages to removing dead skin buildup to getting rid of blackheads, estheticians help restore brighter complexions, explains Cox.
For your first appointment, bring the skincare products you use at home with you—so the esthetician can learn more about your routine—and ask questions, recommends Cox. The esthetician will also ask about your health and family history to better understand your skin condition, adds Pilon. Once you establish trust, a relationship, and a routine with your esthetician, you’ll be able to lean back and relax during your treatment.
What can you expect when you book an esthetician appointment?
Services vary from lunch-time mini appointments (from $50) to in-depth anti-aging treatments that can last from 90 minutes to 2 hours (from $100 to $300). You can book routine services like manicures ($25), waxes (from $20), and spray tans; or buzzier treatments, including infrared light therapy to address wrinkles and fine lines, microcurrent devices to tone and lift facial muscles, and oxygen treatments to rehydrate skin.
While prices will differ depending on your esthetician and city location, our experts quote prices for facials to be $100 for a 65-minute facial, $130 for a 90-minute treatment, and prices can then climb to $225-250 depending on the treatment and timeframe.
7 Esthetician-approved skincare tips
For maintaining youthful, radiant skin, estheticians offer seven tricks—from the best anti-aging ingredients to the exact skincare products you should be using in your 30s and beyond—to incorporate into your routine between appointments.
- Cox is a fan of powerful ingredient bakuchiol, a natural, plant-based form of retinol that helps to minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots without irritating or drying out skin. Unlike retinol, you can use products with bakuchiol—like Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum ($72; sephora.com)—during the day with zero photosensitivity, she adds.
- “Vitamin c is a tried-and-true workhorse to help brighten and balance complexions,” says Cox. Add one of Health’s favorite anti-aging vitamin c serums to your rotation.
- One of the biggest at-home skincare trends of the year has been dermaplaning, notes Cox. “This is a device that removes the dead skin cells and peach fuzz off your face in minutes, and the results are jaw dropping,” she raves. Her pick: Finishing Touch Flawless Dermaplane Glo ($20; amazon.com), which features a built-in safety guard and an LED light pipe that acts as a literal tour guide of your face.
- Simply washing your face with water can not only be super drying, but it can also throw off your skin’s balance since water has a pH of 7 and a healthy pH level is considered a 5.5, points out Pilon. She advises to always be sure to cleanse skin morning and night with a milk cleanser if your skin is dry or with a gentle foaming cleanser—like CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser ($17; amazon.com)—if you have oily or combination skin. Follow with a toner to rebalance skin.
- You’ve heard it before (and still may not be complying) but apply a mineral sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to skin everyday to protect from UVA and UVB rays, recommends Pilon.
- If you’re over 30 years old, you should be using an eye cream, says Pilon. And if you’re over 50, you should incorporate a night cream or serum into your skincare routine with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and peptides to stimulate collagen and elastin in the skin, she adds.
- Gently exfoliating and sloughing off dead skin once a week is critical if you want your anti-aging products to penetrate better, explains Pilon. Instead of using a harsh scrub with beads that could cause micro tears in your skin, opt for a liquid exfoliator, like The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution ($8; sephora.com).
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