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How to Become an Esthetician: Your Step-by-Step Guide

12-minute read

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Susan Hamilton

Susan Hamilton

22 July 2022

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We all know someone with a radiant, youthful glow. What’s their secret? It may be an esthetician!

If you’re considering a career as an esthetician, you’re on a solid path to helping people feel good about themselves and the way they look. Working in the beauty industry can be a fulfilling career, but there’s a lot to learn about how to become a licensed esthetician.

The good news is we have a step-by-step guide filled with information that will answer your questions about pursuing a career in the beauty industry, including how to start an esthetician business.

Let’s get glowing!

What is an Esthetician?

An esthetician is a trained skin care professional who performs treatments such as facials, chemical peels, pore cleansing, makeup application, and hair removal. People often seek the help of an esthetician to treat conditions such as acne, sun pigmentation, wrinkles, or scarring.

Most estheticians work at salons or spas, but you also may find exciting career opportunities at resorts, med spas, hotels, and movie sets.

It’s important to note that estheticians are not medical professionals. An esthetician works with clients, whereas a medical esthetician treats patients with more advanced, medical-level techniques in a setting such as a hospital or trauma center.

Many people think estheticians and cosmetologists are the same occupations, but they’re not. In the beauty world, cosmetology is a broad field that includes hair, nails, makeup, and skin care. Estheticians focus exclusively on skin health and may be licensed to perform more advanced skin treatments.

If you’re wondering how to become an esthetician, it may be worth exploring a career in cosmetology as well. A cosmetologist may become an esthetician if they continue their training and education.

What are the requirements to become an esthetician?

Like many fields, you’ll need specific training to become a qualified esthetician. Begin by looking for an accredited esthetician training program in your state. Generally, applicants into a program must be at least 16-17 years old.

Your state may require 150 to over 1,200 hours at an accredited training program to qualify for a license. The average for most states is 600 hours of training, and some states allow apprenticeship hours instead of or in addition to school hours.

Once you complete your hours, you can take the state exam to obtain a professional license. The exam takes about three hours and includes a written test and a practical, hands-on exam where you perform services that align with your state’s laws and regulations.

Why become an esthetician?

Now that you know how to become an esthetician, let’s talk about the benefits of working in the beauty industry.

Careers in esthetics can be very gratifying. Estheticians spend their days helping people feel more comfortable in their own skin (literally!). In addition to boosting your clients’ confidence, you're helping them maintain a healthy skin routine.

There are many other benefits to becoming an esthetician:

An esthetician’s schedule.

Estheticians typically book their services by appointment, so you may have the flexibility to set a schedule that works for you.

Face-to-face time.

An esthetician career is a good fit if you’re a people person. You’ll have plenty of personal interaction with your clients, and you may forge lasting, loyal relationships with them.

Good earning potential.

In addition to your esthetician yearly salary, you may also have the opportunity to supplement your hourly pay with earned tips, bonuses, and commissions on products and services. In hot markets like Miami and Los Angeles, it’s not uncommon to meet estheticians who earn well above $100,000.

It’s never dull.

No two clients or skin types are alike, so you’ll put your experience to good use with different techniques and treatments every day. There are also many different esthetician specializations available to those who are interested, see a few examples below.

What can an advanced esthetician do?

An advanced esthetician can provide more advanced skin care treatments than a basic esthetician, such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser skin treatments.

Are there male estheticians?

Yes, there are male estheticians and also estheticians for men. They typically make up a small percentage of the esthetician workforce but if more men hire estheticians it is possible that the number of male estheticians and specialized estheticians for men will increase.

What is a traveling esthetician?

A traveling esthetician is an esthetician who provides their services at multiple locations, rather than being tied to one salon or spa. This can be a great option for estheticians who want to work in a variety of settings or who want additional flexibility in setting their own schedule.

Investing in an esthetician mobile spa truck can make working traveling esthetician jobs much easier because you'll have a mobile workspace that is filled with the supplies you need.

Are there remote esthetician jobs?

Yes, there are some remote esthetician jobs, but these roles may be less available than in-person esthetician jobs.

Some companies may allow estheticians to work from home providing customer service or sales support. You may also be able to find telecommuting jobs teaching esthetics or working as a consultant.

How to become an esthetician on a cruise ship?

Working as an esthetician on a cruise ship is a great way to see the world while doing what you love. International resorts and cruise ships often require extra licenses or certificates.

Being versatile also can be helpful, so you may want to consider licenses or certificates for other services, such as massage therapy, as a nail technician, or as a makeup artist. You can learn more about cruise ship esthetician jobs by contacting cruise lines directly or searching for jobs on job boards.

What is a mortician esthetician?

A mortician esthetician is an esthetician who specializes in providing esthetic treatments to the deceased. This can include applying makeup, doing hair, and providing manicures and pedicures. Mortician estheticians typically work in funeral homes, but some may also work in mortuaries or crematories.

What is an organic esthetician?

An organic esthetician is an esthetician who uses organic products and treatments in their practice. This can include using organic skincare products, using organic essential oils, and providing organic facials and body treatments. Organic estheticians may also use green methods, such as using recycled materials and energy-efficient equipment.

What is a minimalistic esthetician?

A minimalistic esthetician is an esthetician who uses fewer products and treatments in their practice. This can include using fewer products on the skin, using fewer products overall, and providing treatments that are less aggressive. Minimalist estheticians may also use natural methods, such as using plant-based products and using gentle techniques.

Esthetician Training: Here's What to Expect

If a career in esthetics sounds attractive, it may be time to enroll in a program.

Here’s what you need to know about training:

Where can I train to become an esthetician?

Finding the best esthetician schools for you may take a bit of research. You’ll want to choose an accredited program that suits your educational goals and fits your budget. To get started, check out this list of nine of the top programs in the U.S.

What do you learn in esthetician school?

Every school has a different curriculum and coursework, but you can expect your program to cover these topics:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Ingredient analysis
  • Facials, cleansing, toning, and massaging
  • Makeup application
  • Hair removal and waxing
  • Marketing, sales, and salon management
  • Safety, sanitation, and sterilization

How long is esthetician school?

There is no straight answer to that question. It all depends on your state’s requirements and your personal circumstances.

Let’s say you live in Arizona, where the requirement is 600 classroom hours. It would generally take five or six months to complete the coursework as a full-time student. However, if you attend the program part-time, it would take much longer.

Once you wrap up your coursework hours, you may be required to complete months of on-the-job experience before obtaining your license. Each state has a set number of educational hours you must complete, whether through esthetician school or an apprenticeship.

For example, Georgia requires 1,000 classroom hours or 2,000 apprenticeship hours. If you choose an apprenticeship, it may take a year for you to finish your program. Additionally, if you pursue a specialized area, it will take longer for you to complete the extra training.

So how long does it take to become an esthetician?

Becoming a licensed esthetician may take anywhere from a few months to three years. It all depends on where you live, how much time you have to dedicate to education and training, and your personal career goals.

How to Become a Licensed Esthetician

Complete an accredited esthetician training program.

We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating. Choosing an accredited school is a critical step.

Most licensing boards require graduation from an accredited esthetics program, so make sure your school’s program meets your state’s licensure requirements for esthetics education.

Here’s another reason to choose an accredited school: They will likely have a much stronger reputation, which can help you land a job after graduation.

Take and pass your esthetician exams.

Most states require you to pass the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) exam to become a licensed esthetician. Of the states that don’t require NIC testing, most administer similar tests of their own. Exam prep tools like the NIC practice exam can help you prepare for your licensing exam.

Pay your state’s esthetician licensing fee.

You passed your exam! Now you can register as an esthetician with your state’s Board of Cosmetology. Like other licensed professionals, you will have to pay a fee for your license, which varies by state.

Do you need a license to be an esthetician?

Yes. Before you can legally work as an esthetician, you'll need to earn a license. As we mentioned before, licensing requirements differ in every state, so make sure you know what your state requires.

How to get an esthetician license:

While licensing requirements differ in every state, the general process for obtaining an esthetician license is similar under all state licensing boards. You must complete a set number of esthetician training hours, take and pass all the required exams, and pay a licensing fee.

Remember, once you’ve paid your initial licensing fee, you must maintain a current esthetician license. Standards for renewing a license vary from state to state, with many requiring renewals yearly or every two years.

Esthetician license benefits:

One of the most compelling reasons to have a license is trust. Let’s face it — skin care is delicate, so most people want to know that the person waxing, exfoliating, or lasering their face is a specially-trained and licensed professional.

Licensed professionals have to uphold the standards of their industry, so having an esthetician license can aid your credibility. A good reputation may result in greater trust from potential clients and employers.

Licensing can impact your earning potential. Researchers have found that licensed workers tend to earn more than similar workers who are not required to obtain licenses. An esthetician license is critical if you want to position yourself as a professional in the industry — and earn a pretty penny!

How to Start Your Own Esthetician Business

Beauty is a passion for many estheticians, so naturally, you may want to take your career to the next level by starting your own business.

If you want to know what it will take to start an esthetician business, we have some tips to help you lay a foundation for success:

1. Take advanced esthetician courses.

We’ve already covered how to become an esthetician, and the importance of training and licensing. If your experience is limited to facials, waxing, and brow tinting, you won’t be able to perform procedures like laser treatments, microdermabrasion, or other specialty services when you launch your business.

Decide on which treatments you want to offer, and take the relevant training courses you need to meet the requirements to offer those services. Advanced esthetician training will take some time to complete, so plan ahead.

2. Get a business license.

A business license differs from an esthetician’s license — not all estheticians need a business license. However, if you open a salon or spa, you will need a business license to operate in your state.

Every state has its own rules and regulations, so brush up on your area’s license and permit requirements.

3. Find an esthetician space.

Will you rent commercial esthetician space? Or can you operate a home esthetician business? As explored earlier, you might want to even consider becoming a traveling esthetician. Whatever venue you choose, make sure it can accommodate everything you need to run your business, including room for equipment, supplies, and clients.

In addition to treatment rooms, you may also want a changing room, showers, washroom, and a reception area to help make your clients feel comfortable while they wait.

4. Brand your business.

Your esthetician business is all about health and wellness, so your brand should radiate those qualities. A consistent brand style helps your business become recognizable and distinguishes it from competitors.

Choose a unique name for your business and hire a graphic designer to create a logo and color palette. Carry this through everything associated with your business, from your furnishings and uniforms to your website and marketing materials.

5. Spread the word.

You’ve got talent, training, and a welcoming space. Now you need to create a buzz about the launch of your esthetician business. To attract as many new clients as possible, use a multichannel strategy that includes email, social media, and local advertising.

Consider hosting a launch event in advance of your official opening. Focus on your unique selling points and services, and offer incentives for new clients. Your marketing efforts should drive traffic to your website, where clients can see a complete list of your services and also book appointments online.

Get esthetician insurance.

The cost of esthetician insurance is likely less compared to what you might spend if you get sued by a client (even if you did nothing wrong) or if you were accidentally negligent while treating a client.

Additionally, your state may require you to carry insurance to perform services or rent business space. Insurance for estheticians can include many different policies, depending on your business’s exact needs.

Here are two core policies we recommend:

General liability insurance

General liability (“GL”) insurance typically covers costs associated with third-party accidents, property damage, and bodily injury to a third party.

Here’s how general liability insurance for estheticians works:

If you rent a space and accidentally damage a countertop with a harsh chemical, you would have to pay for a counter replacement out of your own pocket which is a financial hit you might not be able to absorb.

With esthetician liability insurance coverage, your policy could help cover the cost. GL coverage also can protect some of your esthetician equipment if it’s stolen or damaged while you’re working.

Professional Liability Insurance for Estheticians

As an esthetician, you know that a chemical mishap isn’t limited to a countertop. It could happen with a client!

Let’s say you apply a chemical peel to your client’s face. You set a timer, and then you get pulled away by another client, leaving your first client to sit for a prolonged period. When you return to her, her skin is noticeably red, irritated, and may even be permanently damaged. She decides to sue you for negligence.

Professional liability insurance typically can help protect your business’s finances — and your own — if you're responsible for a mistake you made while providing your services. PL coverage is generally recommended for estheticians, as this line of work exposes you to many risks.

At Simply Business, we’d love for you to never have to worry about property damage or negligence claims. Still, even the most careful esthetician can have an accident or make a mistake that may result in thousands of dollars of damages.

As a small business owner, you can protect yourself with esthetician insurance that may help cover you from catastrophic costs, up to your policy limits. We make it easy to compare free insurance quotes and see what coverage options may work best for you and your business.

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Startup cost for an esthetician business:

For many estheticians, opening a salon can be a dream come true.

While it takes time, energy, and money to get a business up and running, it’s possible to launch an esthetician business with a modest budget.

Renting a physical storefront or office can be an expensive startup cost, so if possible, consider operating out of your home in the beginning.

If you are passionate about a career in esthetics, launching your own business can be empowering. You’ll have the freedom to be your own boss in an industry you love. See below for some of the typical supplies necessary to get an esthetician business up and running.

Esthetician supplies and equipment checklist:

Esthetician Chair: A comfortable, adjustable chair is a must for any esthetician. It allows you to position your clients comfortably for treatments and gives you the ability to move around them easily.

Esthetician Stool: A stool is necessary for any esthetician so that you can have a comfortable place to sit while working on your clients. It also allows you to be at the right height for treatments.

Esthetician Table: An esthetician table is necessary so that you have a place to put your supplies and equipment. It also allows you to position your clients comfortably for treatments.

Esthetician Lights: Good lighting is important for any esthetician so that you can see your client's skin clearly. It also helps to create a relaxing atmosphere for your clients.

Esthetician Rolling Cart: A cart is a great way to keep your supplies and equipment organized and within reach. A rolling cart also allows you to move around easily while you are working.

Esthetician Towels: Towels are necessary for any esthetician so that you can keep your clients clean and comfortable during treatments.

Esthetician Clothing: The proper clothing is necessary for any esthetician so that you can be easily identified as a professional. They also help to create a clean and professional appearance. Many estheticians choose to wear a base layer of esthetician scrubs which are stain proof and easily cleaned with an esthetician lab coat on top.

Esthetician Kit: An esthetician kit is a great way to keep all of your supplies and equipment organized and within reach. It also allows you to move around easily while you are working. Typical items you'd find inside include things like: facial steamer, high frequency machine, extraction tool, and more.

It’s Time to Shine.

If you made it this far, then beauty is more than skin deep for you! You are destined for a rewarding career in the skin care industry. Now that you know how to become a licensed esthetician, maybe one day you’ll have a business that impacts the health and well-being of many loyal clients.

Susan Hamilton

Written by

Susan Hamilton

I've always loved to write and have been lucky enough to make a career out of it. After many years in the corporate advertising world, I'm now a freelance writer—running my own show and contributing to Simply Business. Fun fact: I have three desks in my house, but I still do my best thinking walking in the woods

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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