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How to Become an Esthetician: The Complete Guide

Believe it or not, only four percent of women around the world believe that they are beautiful. Only our percent! What’s even more surprising is that 80% of those same women believe that there is something beautiful about every woman, yet, they cannot see their own beauty when they look in the mirror. It’s time for women to see their true beauty, and that’s where estheticians come into play.

If you’ve ever had a strong interest in beautifying your own appearance, or the appearance of others, then keep reading, because you may have the desire and the talent necessary to become a licensed esthetician, and this article will show you the exact steps that you need to take to become one.

Who knows? A few years from now, you may even find yourself on the set of a big-budget movie applying makeup to the face of a Hollywood star, or working in a high-end spa in Beverly Hills, or becoming your own boss and starting your own beauty business.


Let Esthetician Schooling Connect You With a High Quality Esthetician School in Your Area!

Are you ready to take the next step and begin your career as a well-paid esthetician? Esthetician Schooling has partnered with some of the best esthetician schools in the nation.  Our huge network of nationally recognized esthetician schools will make it easy for you to find the right school and get started training immediately!

The beauty schools in our network contain one or more of the following high quality standards:

  • State Board Recognition
  • NACCAS Accreditation
  • Student Financial Aid
  • Job Placement Assistance for Those Who Qualify

To get started, simply fill out the quick 1-minute application below.


What is an Esthetician and What Do They Do?

An esthetician, also called a skin care specialist, is someone who is licensed by the state to cleanse and beautify a person’s face and body in order to enhance that person’s skin and improve their overall appearance. Estheticians achieve this using a variety of methods, including:

  • Facials
  • Exfoliation Treatments
  • Body Wraps
  • Spa Treatments
  • Waxing Treatments
  • Hair Removal
  • Makeup Application

Esthetician Facial MaskEstheticians are good with their hands and possess a warm demeanor, putting the client at ease and helping them to relax through soft touch techniques, scented lotions, and aromatherapy. A good esthetician is highly knowledgeable about skin care products, skin care needs, the latest skin cleansing techniques, and more.

Estheticians are active listeners who are comfortable working one-on-one with customers in close proximity, holding honest face-to-face discussions about the client’s needs and what can be done to improve their skin condition.

They also use a variety of machines in their occupation including, skin lancets, facial steamers, microdermabrasion machines, ultrasonic facial machines, ultraviolet UV sterilizers, and more.

What Kind of Esthetician Do You Want to Be?

The first step in becoming an esthetician is to decide what kind of esthetician you want to be. Essentially, there are two types of estheticians. There are spa estheticians, which focus purely on improving a person’s skin and overall appearance, and then there are medical estheticians.

A spa esthetician is usually employed by a spa or beauty salon and performs the procedures mentioned above. The esthetician may work at the spa or beauty salon as an employee or they may lease a small space at the spa or beauty salon and work as a self-employed esthetician, building their own clientele and receiving payment for their services directly from the customer.

A medical esthetician focuses on improving the appearance of someone who’s skin may have been affected by disease, physical trauma, or a medical procedure, such as facial reconstructive surgery. They are usually employed by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon and may provide either pre or post-operative skin care treatments, including:

  • Chemical Peels
  • Microabrasions
  • Laser Therapy
  • Acid Treatments

Even though spa estheticians and medical estheticians perform many of the same procedures, a medical esthetician must undergo additional on-the-job training and, therefore, generally gets paid more than a spa esthetician.

Esthetician Training

Once you’ve decided on what kind of esthetician you want to be, the next step is to get the necessary training. Every state except the state of Connecticut requires that students training to become licensed estheticians undergo a minimum number of hours of esthetics theory and practical application through a licensed school, such as a private cosmetology school, skin care institute, or community college.

If you’re not the academic type or can’t afford the cost of tuition, don’t worry. Some states will allow you to obtain the required number of hours of training needed for licensing through an esthetician apprenticeship under the supervision of a licensed esthetician. However, if you do choose to acquire your training through an apprenticeship, please keep in mind that you will be required to train longer than you would at a licensed school. The only states where this does not apply are Alaska and Wisconsin, where all licensees are required to accumulate 350 hours of training and 450 hours of training, respectively.

The number of hours of esthetics training required varies from state to state. The diagram below shows you the minimum hours of training required at a licensed school for each state. As you can see, certain states allow you to substitute an apprenticeship supervised by a licensed esthetician in place of hours accumulated at a licensed esthetician school.

It is important to remember that individuals are prohibited from practicing esthetics without a valid and current state license. Connecticut is the only state in which you can practice esthetics without a license.

Training Hours Required by Each State

StateEsthetician SchoolsNACCAS Accredited SchoolsLowest Tuition CostHighest Tuition CostAvg Tuition CostAvg Graduation RateAvg Job Placement RateAvg Loan DebtAvg Program Length
Alabama93$9,255$15,735$11,77372%72%$9,50045 wks
Arizona3015$6,600$20,000$10,00472%68%$6,18225 wks
Arkansas108$4,950$9,430$6,24576%44%$4,91220 wks
California12083$1,200$14,950$7,60755%72%$4,34323 wks
Colorado2714$3,000$14,660$7,86271%72%$4,68027 wks
Connecticut113$8,070$8540$8,36887%79%N/A30 wks
Delaware31$8,400$13,500$10,26792%79%$5,11928 wks
District of Columbia21$9,255$9,255$9,25566%55%$026 wks
Florida7146$1,200$26,526$10,20680%76%$6,41431 wks
Georgia134$3,900$15,700$10,76957%81%$7,89042 wks
Idaho108$3,830$8,590$6,67464%58%$4,28919 wks
Illinois4531$5,000$18,700$11,05566%61%$6,72230 wks
Indiana3021$7,622$13,900$10,52070%80%$7,82331 wks
Iowa1812$5,508$10,590$8,54362%75%$5,90726 wks
Kansas74$9,200$17,865$13,19343%70%$6,73739 wks
Kentucky83$8,995$12,352$11,19218%66%$6,45434 wks
Louisiana1610$3,525$13,000$7,67351%73%$4,01437 wks
Maine22$9,500$9,550$9,52579%72%$5,99722 wks
Maryland52$8,400$11,773$10,33671%75%$6,65032 wks
Massachusetts149$2,370$11,822$7,36782%78%$4,73222 wks
Michigan2922$2,490$9,500$5,58754%62%$4,98522 wks
Minnesota1110$4,950$11,699$7,82855%68%$5,04221 wks
Mississippi32N/AN/A$6,30068%89%$3,41921 wks
Missouri2118$1,750$21,106$9,87260%76%$6,68932 wks
Montana43$5,000$9,675$7,27988%77%$4,13832 wks
Nebraska54$8,495$10,590$9,21738%66%$5,74722 wks
Nevada107$12,873$16,085$14,23266%53%$9,45429 wks
New Hampshire76$10,950$15,230$12,18990%59%$6,47028 wks
New Jersey2418$7,300$9,847$8,18953%83%$4,01322 wks
New Mexico84$7,200$10,125$8,43672%64%$9,31723 wks
New York3023$2,850$15,100$7,78249%74%$4,21323 wks
North Carolina127$3,800$12,075$9,16467%74%$7,72630 wks
North Dakota33$8,000$8,000$8,000N/AN/AN/A20 wks
Ohio2722$4,575$13,100$9,12449%71%$5,42430 wks
Oklahoma2212$4,980$14,500$7,89264%73%$6,20122 wks
Oregon2420$3,435$16,166$6,06161%77%$4,16421 wks
Pennsylvania2921$3,600$9,500$6,05577%75%$2,92222 wks
Rhode Island22$9,195$9,598$9,39767%74%$6,25920 wks
South Carolina127$4,600$11,380$8,42686%85%$7,27027 wks
South Dakota21$5,975$6,900$6,43894%74%$5,00023 wks
Tennessee328$4,295$13,500$8,47858%64%$6,12028 wks
Texas6454$4,129$11,500$8,40466%66%$5,32928 wks
Utah1713$6,450$15,750$11,80961%76%$9,46840 wks
Vermont22$13,635$13,635$13,63560%68%$11,59640 wks
Virginia265$5,400$11,182$8,61747%77%$5,96724 wks
Washington3518$1,800$17,973$8,30782%68%$5,75328 wks
West Virginia32$5,500$7,425$6,463N/AN/AN/A22 wks
Wisconsin1814$4,000$10,125$6,98867%60%$4,45227 wks
StateEsthetician SchoolsLowest Tuition CostHighest Tuition CostAverage Tuition CostAvg Graduation RateAvg Job Placement RateAvg Loan DebtAvg Program Length

Esthetician Schools

In the United States, there are approximately 1100 schools that offer esthetician programs. California has the most esthetician schools, with 138 schools scattered statewide, while South Dakota only has 2 esthetician schools in the entire state.

All esthetician schools are required to set forth an esthetics program that meets the minimum number of hours of theory and hands-on training required by the state board for licensure. For instance, schools in California are required to provide an esthetics program that requires the student to accumulate 1600 hours of training before they are eligible to graduate. In South Dakota, esthetician students are required to accumulate 600 hours of esthetics training.

Most esthetician schools offer similar curriculums that combine instructional theory with hands-on practical application. Students usually learn through lectures, textbook study, multimedia presentations, demonstrations, and hands-on training using mannequins and people. Some schools, like Aveda Institute, use the 4MAT Learning System which is designed to teach students who have different learning styles.

A good esthetician school is equipped with an in-school salon or spa where students can perform practical applications on actual clients and develop job-ready skills through hands-on training

While esthetician programs differ from school to school, students will generally study the following subjects:

  • Esthetician Theory
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Histology of the Skin
  • Diseases & Skin Disorders
  • Bacteriology
  • Sanitation & Sterilization
  • Microbiology & Infection Control
  • Practical Applications
  • Facials
  • Aromatherapy
  • Use of Treatment Machines
  • Use of skin care products
  • Face & Body Treatments
  • Facial Cosmetics & Color Theory
  • Massage Manipulation Techniques
  • Face & Body Waxing
  • Eyebrow trimming

Some esthetician schools also instruct their students on how to build clientele and manage their own spa or salon.

The esthetician programs offered by private schools range from 16 weeks to 1 year in length, while the esthetician courses offered by community colleges are usually 18 months to 2 years in length. Students are usually awarded an Undergraduate Certificate upon completion of a private school program, while community college graduates may either receive an Undergraduate Certificate, Diploma, or Associates Degree, depending on the length of the program and the number of credits required for completion.

The average tuition cost of an esthetician education ranges from $5,000 to $12,000 plus books, supplies, and miscellaneous fees. Esthetician schools in rural areas are usually less expensive to attend than schools in metropolitan areas. Of course, well-known schools like Aveda Institute and Empire Beauty Schools can usually charge more for tuition because of their reputation for training highly qualified job-ready graduates.

Fortunately, the U.S. government provides federal and state grants to those who qualify to help alleviate the high cost of tuition. Federal and private loans are also available. Every year, scholarships are awarded to a few lucky students, as well.

How do I Choose the Right Esthetician School?

As you set out on your journey to become a licensed esthetician, choosing the right school is one of the most important steps you’ll take.

There are many different factors to consider when choosing an esthetician school but, probably the most important factor to consider is accreditation.

The National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS) is an independent accrediting commission that has been officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a national agency for the institutional accreditation of postsecondary schools and departments of cosmetology arts and sciences.

Schools whose esthetician programs are NACCAS accredited must adhere to a strict set of standards put forth by the agency. The NACCAS determines if the school meets NACCAS standards and is even inspected by a team of officials who visit the school and evaluate the school’s facilities, equipment, and curriculum.

NACCAS accredited schools are re-evaluated every six months and, if the schools don’t meet the minimum NACCAS standards, they lose their accreditation until the necessary changes have been made.

If a school’s esthetics curriculum isn’t accredited by the NACCAS, you’re taking a slight risk by going to that school, since they are not required to meet national standards of educational performance.

Other factors you may want to consider when choosing an esthetician school are:

  • Cost – What is the cost of tuition and other related expenses?
  • Financial Aid – Does the school accept state/federal grants, offer scholarships, etc?
  • Debt – Do most of the students graduate with school debt or do they graduate debt-free?
  • Location – Can you commute or will you have to move? Is the school located in a safe area?
  • Program Length – Can you get your diploma or certificate in less than a year?
  • Experience – Is there an in-school salon/spa where you can gain experience with real clients?
  • Class Schedules – Can you attend the school part-time, nights/weekends if necessary?
  • Instructors – How much industry experience do the instructors have? Do they stay up-to-date?
  • Teaching Styles – Will the teachers work with slow learners and handicapped students?
  • Class Size – Are the classes small? Do the teachers allow some time for one-on-one instruction?
  • Facilities – Are the classes, restrooms, and breakroom clean and well-equipped?
  • Equipment – Does the school have newer, up-to-date equipment to train on?
  • Materials – Are the learning materials and multimedia presentations digital or state-of-the-art?
  • Exam Prep – To what extent will the school go to help you prepare for and pass the NIC exams?
  • Tour – Can you tour the school during class hours?
  • Reputation – Is the school known for training well-qualified graduates who easily find jobs?
  • Graduation Rate – Does the school have a high on-time graduation rate?
  • Job Placement Rate – Does the school have a high job placement rate?
  • Job Placement Assistance – Will the school help you find a job in your chosen career field?

Always remember to ask any questions you may have about the school, the program, or the instructors. If you schedule a tour during school hours, this will give you a good idea of what it will be like to attend the school as a student. Remember, it’s better to find out about the school’s strengths and weaknesses before you are forced to make a commitment, both academically and financially.

Getting Your Esthetician License

As stated before, anyone practicing esthetics in the U.S. must be licensed by the state, except in the state of Connecticut, where anyone can practice esthetics without a license. While licensing procedures vary from state to state, as a licensee, you will be required to follow the same basic steps:

  1. Complete a state-approved esthetics course, accumulating the minimum number of training hours required by the state.
  2. Complete and submit a licensure examination application.
  3. Pay any licensing fees as required by the state.
  4. Pay the examination fees for both the written and practical exams.
  5. Register with the company administering the exams in your state (usually PSI, PCS, or DL Roope).
  6. Wait for your Authorization to Test (ATT) letter or Official Admission Notice to be emailed to you with the date, time, and location of your exams.
  7. Take the written exam and pass with a score of at least 75% or better.
  8. Take the practical exam and pass with a score of at least 75% or better.
  9. Wait for your Notice of Completion or Score Notice stating that you have successfully passed both exams.
  10. Receive your state esthetician license.
  11. Renew your esthetician license every two years, as required by the state.

Now, that you know what steps you must take to obtain your esthetician license, let’s take a closer look at the theory exam and the practical exam.

The Esthetician Theory Exam

Every individual applying for an esthetician license in their state is required to pass either a theory (written) exam, practical exam, or both, before they are eligible to receive their license. Most states will require you to take both exams. A few states require you to pass an esthetician state law exam as well.

The purpose of these exams is to prove that you have completed the minimum number of hours of esthetics training as mandated by the state and, therefore, you now possess the knowledge and skills needed to become a state licensed esthetician.

No matter what state you live in, if you are applying for your esthetician license and are required to take a theory exam, you’ll be taking the written exam created by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology or, NIC, for short.

The theory exam tests your knowledge of esthetician theory, from Sanitation and Infection Control Procedures to Lymphatic Drainage and everything in between. Most states give you 90 to 100 minutes to complete the exam, which consists of multiple choice questions. If you receive a score of 74% or lower, you will be required to retake the exam, until you receive a passing score of 75%.

Fortunately for you, NIC issues an updated Candidate Information Bulletin every year which outlines the topics you’ll be tested on in the theory exam. The topics included in the exam are:

  • Sanitation and Infection Control Procedures
  • Advanced Knowledge of Human Physiology/Anatomy
  • Skin Histology
  • Structure and Function of the Layers of the Skin
  • Skin Conditions and Disorders
  • Chemistry
  • Cosmetic Ingredients
  • Factors that Affect the Skin
  • Dermatological Terms
  • Plastic Surgery terms
  • Skin Analysis
  • Exfoliation Methods
  • Use of Electrical Equipment
  • Hair Removal Methods
  • Advanced Facial Treatments
  • Advanced Body Treatments
  • Lymphatic Drainage
  • Pre/Post Operative

It’s a good idea to study hard and pass the theory exam the first time since most states charge a rescheduling fee to retake the exam.

Keep in mind that cell phones, tablets, computers and other personal electronic devices are prohibited in the examination area. Purses, bags, coats and other personal items not directly related to the examination are also prohibited. Exhibiting disruptive behavior and talking to any other candidates or examiners during the examination is also prohibited.

The Esthetician Practical Exam

The esthetician practical exam is used to test how well you can perform practical applications of the skills you’ve learned during your esthetician training. You’ll be tested on everything from Client Preparation to Blood Exposure Procedure. Some states allow you to perform the practical exam procedures on a live model while other states only allow you to perform on a doll head. The video below explains the setup procedure for the Esthetics Practical Exam in most states.

State Board Esthetics Exam – Setup and Client Protection

Most states require you to bring your own supply kit to the exam. You may also be required to bring your own state-approved mannequin head with no hair, facial makeup or any markings. All supplies must be labeled in English. A list of the supplies needed for the practical exam can be found in the Candidate Information Bulletin published by NIC.

There may be a dress code in place for the exam as well. You’ll also be required to bring two forms of valid identification and a recent passport-sized photo showing your head and shoulders.

You’ll be given approximately 90 to 125 minutes to complete the practical exam. You’ll be tested on the following core domain sections:

  1. Work Area, Client Preparation & Setup (1st client, 15 minutes)
  2. Cleansing the Face with Product (10 minutes)
  3. Manual Lymphatic Drainage (10 minutes)
  4. Particle Microdermabrasion on the Forehead (10 minutes)
  5. LED Treatment (10 minutes)
  6. Work Area, New Client Preparation & Set Up of Supplies (2nd client, 15 minutes)
  7. Ultrasonic Treatment of the Forehead & Upper Lip (10 minutes)
  8. Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) Treatment (10 minutes)
  9. Microcurrent Treatment to Upper Orbicularis Oculi (10 minutes)
  10. Body Treatment: Dry Exfoliation & Mud Mask (15 minutes)
  11. Blood Exposure Procedure (10 minutes)

It is important to note that the designated minutes above is the maximum amount of time you are allowed for each section. When the timer goes off, you are required to stop working IMMEDIATELY. You will be given time to setup the general supplies you will be using for each section during the examination.

The exam proctors will give you verbal instructions for each core domain section of the exam. Each instruction will be read twice. If you ask the proctor any questions you will be met with the following replies, “Do the best you can with what you have available” or “Do as you were taught”.

Failure to follow the NIC Health and Safety Standards during the exam will result in dismissal from the exam. Also, if you do not follow the infection control procedures or you allow your work area to become and remain unsafe, you may be given a failing score.

Cell phones, tablets, computers and other personal electronic devices are prohibited in the examination area. Purses, bags, coats and other personal items not directly related to the examination are also prohibited. Exhibiting disruptive behavior and talking to any other candidates or examiners during the examination is also prohibited.

Pursuing a Fulfilling Career as an Esthetician

Once you acquire your state license, it’s time to start pursuing your career as a professional esthetician. As a licensed esthetician, you have a variety of different career choices, including:

  • Esthetician/Skin Care Specialist
  • Clinical Esthetician
  • Master Esthetician
  • Wax/Hair removal Specialist
  • Medical Esthetician
  • Spa Manager
  • Esthetician Instructor

You may find employment at a full-service salon, spa, destination resort, wellness center, or on a cruise ship. You may even findEsthetician Spa yourself working next to a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon in a medical office. You may choose to work as an employee, a self-employed freelancer, or even start your own business.

You may choose to work in Hollywood on movie sets and television sets or at a local stage theater. If the fashion industry excites you, you may find yourself applying makeup on runway models or working as a makeup artist on location at a photoshoot. You may even choose to work in the bridal industry.

If you enjoy helping others learn, with some additional training, you could even become an esthetician instructor at a private school or community college. With the esthetics industry, the sky’s the limit.

Esthetician Salary: What to Expect

While you may have to start out in an entry-level position, the good news is, no matter what career path you choose in the esthetics industry, you have a very good chance of finding a fulfilling job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, esthetician/skin care specialist employment is projected to grow 12% from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the average 7% growth for all occupations.

California has the highest employment number with 5,450 estheticians/skin care specialists employed in the Golden State as of May 2015. North Dakota has the lowest number of employed estheticians/skin care specialists with only 30 estheticians employed as of May 2015.

Esthetician Salary Map

Depending on what state you live in, being a spa esthetician or medical esthetician can be a very lucrative career. While estheticians/skin care specialists employed in the state of Indiana receive the lowest salary at $21,240 yearly and $10.21 hourly, estheticians/skin care specialists employed in the state of Wyoming receive the highest salary at $55,330 yearly and $26.60 hourly.

In Conclusion

No matter what direction you choose to go in when pursuing a fulfilling career as an esthetician, it all begins with that first step. I hope this article serves as a comprehensive guide in helping you to decide what kind of esthetician you want to be, finding the esthetician school that’s right for you, obtaining your state license, and enjoying long-term success in a career field that pays well and makes you excited to go to work each and every day!

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