According to Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP), there are approximately 183,000 estheticians licensed in the United States. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects that between 2012 and 2022, the number of skincare specialists licensed in the US will increase by a full 40 percent just to keep pace with the growing demand for esthetic services!
To protect the public, state laws require estheticians to be familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions, sanitation and infection control procedures, and skin histology and the integumentary system before being allowed to offer their services.
In all states other than Connecticut, estheticians are required to pass an examination and become licensed through their state’s Board of Cosmetology or health department to demonstrate they have received the proper training in these areas.
All states (with the exception of Connecticut) now license estheticians. Although the state licensing requirements for estheticians (or aestheticians, with an a, as it is sometimes spelled) varies somewhat from one state to the next, the general process is quite similar under all state licensing boards:
|Complete an Approved Program of Esthetics or an Apprenticeship|
|Take and Pass a State Esthetics License Examination|
|Maintain Esthetics Licensure|
Step 1. Complete an Approved Program of Esthetics or an Apprenticeship
A typical esthetics program is made up of both theory and clinical study. Many institutions now have beautiful, state-of-the-art student salons where students can practice their newly acquired skills on real clients.
Typical coursework in an esthetics program is made up of a blend of practical procedures like facials, waxing, and makeup application; mixed with formal classroom-based and instruction and independent study in areas like safety and sanitation, physiology and anatomy of the skin, and infection control. It is also common for these programs to provide study and training in salon and spa sales, business management, and marketing methods.
All states require estheticians to complete some type of education or training before they can qualify for licensure. The most typical route to achieving the required education is through a formal esthetics program within an esthetics school or school of cosmetology.
Each state’s licensing board or Board of Education is responsible for setting minimum requirements for these programs related to the content they cover and the number of clock hours the program involves, granting approval to schools operating within their jurisdiction that meet these requirements.
Most states require candidates for esthetician licensure to complete an esthetics program consisting of at least 600 practice hours, although some states require much less (e.g., Pennsylvania requires a program of 300 practice hours) and some states require more (e.g., Texas requires a program of 750 practice hours.).
Students interested in receiving federal grants to cover the cost of tuition must attend a school that has been accredited through one of the following agencies:
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- Accrediting Commission for Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
- Council on Occupational Education (COE)
- Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
- National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)
Though not a requirement for licensure, most dedicated estheticians often pursue national certification through the National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors & Associations (NCEA) after licensure as a way to broaden their professional opportunities and distinguish themselves in the field. Estheticians can earn the National Certification-NCEA Certified credential after demonstrating they meet competency standards through a 1200-hour job task analysis.
A number of states also recognize the completion of an apprenticeship as fulfilling the training/education requirements for licensure. It is typical, however, for apprenticeship practice hour requirements to be longer than requirements for esthetics programs in these states. For example, in Delaware, candidates may qualify for licensure through the completion of an esthetics program that is at least 600 hours in duration or through an apprenticeship that is at least 1,200 hours in duration.
A few jurisdictions (Washington State, Utah, Virginia and Washington, DC) recognize a two-tier esthetician license, with additional training and education in a master esthetics program or apprenticeship required to become a licensed master esthetician. Master estheticians in these states are permitted to perform more advanced services that often include:
- Medium-depth chemical peels
- Lymphatic drainage
- Ultrasound and light/radio/laser frequency procedures
Step 2. Take and Pass a State Esthetics License Examination
The next step of the licensure process involves being able to demonstrate the skills and knowledge learned through an esthetics program or apprenticeship by taking and passing a theory (written) and practical (hands-on) examination.
The majority of states require candidates to first apply for licensure so that eligibility can be confirmed before examinations take place. In most states, candidates must be at least 16 years old and have a 10th grade education at minimum to qualify for licensure, although a few states require the completion of a high school education or the equivalent and/or a minimum age of 17.
Most states require candidates for licensure to take both examinations, which are often designed as state-specific tests. However, many states now use either one or both of the national esthetics examinations offered through the National-Interstate Council on State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC). To date, 13 states use the NIC practical examination and 28 states use the NIC written examination.
The NIC esthetics practical examination consists of the following core domains:
- Setup and client protection
- Cleansing and steaming the face
- Massaging the face
- Manual extraction of the forehead
- Hair removal of the eyebrows
- Facial mask
- Facial makeup
The NIC esthetics written examination consists of the following core domains:
- Scientific concepts
- Sanitation and infection control
- Human physiology and anatomy
- Disorders of the sebaceous and sudoriferous glands
- Skin conditions, disorders, and diseases
- Hair, follicle, and its growth cycle
- Basic chemistry
- Skin care products
- Factors that affect the skin
- Integumentary system and skin histology
- Esthetics practices
- Skin analysis and implementation procedures related to documentation, treatment, and consultation
- Product application and removal procedures
- Cleansing procedures
- Steaming procedures
- Exfoliation procedures
- Extraction procedures
- Massage manipulations and their effects
- Appropriate use for masks
- Electricity and use of electrical devices
- Hair removal procedures
- Color theory and makeup application
- General knowledge of specialized services
The NIC also has a written and practical examination in advanced esthetics, which were designed for the purpose of master esthetician licensing.
Step 3. Maintain Esthetics Licensure and Pursue Advanced Credentials
Estheticians, like other state licensed professions, must renew their licenses according to state requirements. Most states require esthetician licenses to be renewed on a biennial basis upon the completion of a renewal application and payment of a fee.
A few states require estheticians to complete a specific number of continuing education hours in order to maintain licensure, although most do not. However, this certainly does not stop licensed estheticians from pursuing continuing education as a way to ensure they are staying on top of the latest advances, trends, and innovations in skincare.
Many estheticians also choose to become licensed to perform other services that include permanent makeup, massage therapy, and electrology as a way to offer more services to clients.
The National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors & Associations (NCEA) formed the Commission on Accreditation (COA) to provide oversight and set standards for continuing education required to keep NCEA certification current, and for the purpose of re-licensure in states where continuing education is required to maintain a license in good standing.
It is also not uncommon for licensed estheticians to study business, management, marketing, and the like, as many estheticians work as independent contractors or salon/spa managers, or eventually go on to start their own esthetics practice.