What is Aesthetics?

The Associated Skin Care Professionals, which is the nation’s first and largest professional organization for estheticians and other skin care professionals, reported that skincare products and services generate $66 billion in annual sales worldwide. In fact, the skincare category is growing at a much faster rate than other beauty services and products – even faster than cosmetics and hair care products!

According to the Associated Skin Care Professionals, one of the latest trends in skincare, is good health and wellness, with anti-stress therapies and spa visits a major part of the trend.

What is Esthetics?

Esthetics, also commonly spelled aesthetics, is another word for skincare services. In other words, esthetics involves treatments or the application of products to the skin, usually the face and neck. Esthetics is focused on achieving and maintaining healthy skin.

Skincare professionals—estheticians—may perform any number of skincare procedures, from pore cleansing and exfoliation to extraction and chemical peels. These beauty professionals also often provide guidance and advice to their clients regarding skincare maintenance and makeup application.

Esthetics may involve the use of skincare machines and tools, as well as products such as lotions, creams, masks, and scrubs. Esthetics is not dermatology, though, as it does not include diagnosing skin diseases and disorders, prescribing medications, procedures, or therapies, or engaging in any other activities that require a medical license. However, estheticians are trained to recognize any number of medical conditions or maladies related to the skin and refer their clients to the proper medical professional.

It is not uncommon, however, for estheticians to work alongside dermatologists, providing complementary and support therapies to dermatological treatment.

Who are Estheticians?

According to the Associated Skin Care Professionals:

  • There are about 183,000 estheticians licensed in the United States.
  • About 90 percent of all estheticians have been in the profession less than 12 years; about 73 percent have practiced less than 5 years.
  • About 98 percent of all estheticians are female, with an average age of 41.
  • About 71 percent of all estheticians work at least part of the time in a day spa or salon, with many of them working as independent contractors.
  • About 22 percent of estheticians work at least part of the time in a med-spa or doctor’s office.
  • Estheticians average about 17 hours a week with clients.
  • The most requested skincare procedures are facials, waxing, and microdermabrasion.
  • There were about 143 million spa visits in the U.S. in 2009, with day spas receiving the majority of visits.

Estheticians, also commonly referred to as skincare therapists, are educated, trained, and licensed to perform services such as facials, body treatments, and waxing. Specific cosmetic procedures may include:

  • Perform detailed skin evaluations to assess a client’s skin condition and appearance
  • Provide facial massages
  • Apply chemical peels
  • Perform skincare facials and extractions
  • Recommend skincare and cosmetic regimens and products
  • Removing unwanted facial and body hair through tweezing and waxing
  • Advise clients about colors and types of makeup
  • Select and apply cosmetic products
  • Tint eyelashes and eyebrows
  • Perform advanced procedures such as microdermabrasion and light therapies

In a medical or med-spa environment, estheticians often perform the following services:

  • Collaborate with medical professionals, such as dermatologists or plastic surgeons, to provide patients with pre- and post-operative skincare
  • Assist medical professionals in sterilizing equipment and cleaning work areas
  • Assist medical professionals in the administration of medications, procedures, or treatments

Estheticians, beyond providing skincare services, must also handle the business side of the esthetics business, such as:

  • Maintaining and updating client records
  • Developing marketing and customer services techniques
  • Conducting business transactions and collecting payments from clients
  • Evaluating inventory and ordering products and supplies, as necessary
  • Maintaining appointment calendar and client contact records
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Selling products and merchandise carried in the salon, clinic, or spa

How Do I Become an Esthetician?

Estheticians are licensed in 49 states, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. Further, a small number of states, including Utah and Virginia, have a two-tiered licensing system. Only Connecticut does not currently license estheticians.

Therefore, if you want to become an esthetician, chances are you will need to be state licensed to do so through your state board of cosmetology. All states that license estheticians require the completion of a board-approved program in esthetics. Esthetician programs are offered through dedicated esthetics schools, cosmetology schools, vocational schools, and junior colleges.

Program requirements for esthetics programs, including practice hour requirements and curriculum design, vary according to each state board of cosmetology; therefore, an approved program in Maryland may look distinctly different from a program in Vermont, for example.

The Associated Skin Care Professionals reports that about 80 percent of all states, such as California, New York, and Maine, require programs of esthetics to be 600 hours in duration. A few states, such as Kentucky, at 1,000 hours, demand longer esthetician programs. A handful of states recognize the completion of an apprenticeship in lieu of an educational program. For example, candidates in New Hampshire may either complete an esthetics program of 600 hours of an apprenticeship of 1,200 hours.

You can expect an esthetics program to consist of study (both theoretical and practical) in many areas of esthetics, as well as study in areas such as sterilization, safety, and health practices, infectious disease control, business practices, state laws, professional ethics, and customer service, among others. Esthetics-specific courses often focus on:

  • Basic facials
  • Massage
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Skin and skin disorders
  • Skin analysis
  • Hair removal
  • Body treatments
  • Product knowledge
  • Nutrition
  • Aromatherapy
  • Advanced facials and treatments
  • Hair removal
  • Makeup application
  • Alternative therapies

Advanced programs, although generally not a requirement for state licensure, are commonplace in this profession, with many schools offering advanced programs that focus on areas such as:

  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical peels
  • Advanced makeup techniques
  • Advanced skin disorders

A few states require additional coursework or study to perform techniques such as microdermabrasion. After entering the profession, you may choose to focus your esthetics career on a specific service, such as bridal makeup or waxing. Additional study in your area of specialty can often be achieved through advanced programs in esthetics.

Once you have successfully completed a board-approved program in esthetics, you must take and pass state licensing examinations and apply for licensure. Most states require candidates to be at least 16 years old and have completed the 10th grade to qualify for licensure.

How Do I Start My Career in Esthetics?

With your esthetician state license in hand, you are now qualified to begin practicing esthetics. Just a few of the settings where you may find a number of professional opportunities include:

  • Spas
  • Skincare salons
  • Dermatologist/plastic surgeon offices

You may work as a salary or commission-based employee or as an independent contractor. Like many other beauty professions, you may choose to rent salon space or even choose to open your own esthetics office or salon. The Associated Skin Care Professionals reports that many estheticians working in day spas or salons work as independent contractors; therefore, it may be valuable to complete study in business management or marketing as to learn the best practices for operating your esthetics business.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median, annual salary for skincare specialists was $28,940, as of May 2013, with the top 10 percent in this profession earning more than $56,930. The Associated Skin Care Professionals report that many estheticians earn salaries of more than $40,000 a year.

You may also choose to pursue national certification through the National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors & Associations (NCEA), which is awarded to skincare professionals who have met the competency standards set by the NCEA’s 1,200-hour Esthetician Job Task Analysis.

To achieve national certification, you must complete a six-section review on ethics/professionalism; medical professional interaction; client care and sciences of the skin; professional treatments; risk management; and business. You must also pass a computer-based examination.

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