Opportunities in Medical Esthetics

There's no such thing as a medical esthetician. But don't stop reading. Appearances can be deceiving!

The term medical esthetician is not regulated, so it could refer to almost anyone. What is regulated, however, is the term licensed esthetician. You can become a licensed esthetician by meeting your state's requirements.

Estheticians help people maintain their appearance. They do this with a variety of techniques to care for your body's largest organ -- your skin. They work in a variety of settings, including spas, plastic surgeons' offices, dermatologists' offices and salons.

Those who call themselves medical estheticians are usually estheticians who work in a medical setting and/or under a doctor's supervision. This is what we mean when we use the term medical esthetician in this article.

"In the scheme of things there's no such thing legally as a medical esthetician," explains Sasha Parker. "A lot of the [estheticians] will call themselves 'medical estheticians' because they are working with plastic surgeons, dermatologists, medical spas or even physicians of other specialties.

"Estheticians go to trade schools and are licensed [through their state]. They learn how to take care of skin, but their scope of practice does not allow them to administer medications, including injections for example, which are medical procedures."

Parker is a registered nurse and esthetician. She's also president of the Esthetic Skin Institute, which trains physicians, nurses, physician assistants and dentists in medical esthetic procedures of all kinds, and also trains estheticians in certain courses if they will work under direct (on-site) physician supervision.

Medical estheticians might have received additional training so they can help with procedures that only doctors are allowed to do, such as Botox injections. Medical estheticians often assist plastic surgeons and dermatologists.

Licensing requirements for estheticians vary by location, so you should check with the relevant department in your state. Licensing typically requires 300 to 700 hours of study and practice, which takes three to six months to complete. Estheticians can also become certified by the National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers / Distributors and Associations (NCEA).

Esthetician programs are offered at many community colleges and private vocational schools. Most are three to six months long, but some are as long as two years.

Estheticians take courses in such things as anatomy and physiology, skin treatments, facial massage, esthetics and business management.

Some people become estheticians as a second career. But many enter the field right after high school.

"A lot come to us right out of high school," says Deb Malcolm. She's the registrar at an esthetics college. "And we do have [students for whom] it's their second career. They were in teaching or banking or whatever. A lot of them say, 'I wish I had done this in my 20s.'"

Medical estheticians perform many skin treatments that are elective, meaning they're not medically required. But they might also work with cancer patients or burn victims.

"It's an industry that's seen a downturn but that's definitely held its own," says Parker. "All over the world, people are concerned about how they look, and everyone's getting older.

"I know an esthetician who makes $150K a year, and then you have some estheticians who make $50,000 or $60,000," says Parker.

"But then you have some that work in just some regular spas, typically for around $15 an hour. The average is between $15 and $20 but it could be as low as $12 (per hour).

"If you have a really good esthetician who networks a lot and has built a following, some of them can do very well," Parker adds.

Marc Winer agrees. He's an esthetician in California. "Clearly it can be a lucrative business, if you have passion for what you do and you put your heart in it," he says. "I think people can make a lot of money in skin care.

"In any career, you have to know there's going to be a lot of work and time involved, but if you really want to be successful, you can be," Winer adds.

An aging population and the increasingly image-conscious nature of our society are contributing to the demand for estheticians.

"There is more and more need for professional services in this area," says Parker. "More and more people are becoming concerned with aging and how they look. And it's not just women -- it's men as well. Men are the fastest growing demographic."

"Anybody with skin is a client for me," says Winer. "Everybody has skin, everyone has an epidermis, so the whole world is a potential customer."

The more physicians that offer esthetic procedures, the more jobs there will be for estheticians in medical settings.

"More and more physicians of all specialties are getting into esthetic medicine procedures," says Ellen Dahlin with the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine (AAAM).

The AAAM offers esthetics courses to physicians. Most who take the courses are family physicians.

"They're looking to augment their services with aesthetic medicine procedures -- to offer one-stop shopping and to attract new patients," says Dahlin. "Our courses right now, even in this economy, have been growing over the past two years."

Why the growth in demand for esthetic procedures? The aging population is a huge factor, says Dahlin. "And we're learning that we don't have to age the way our parents aged," she says. "I think there's an enormous emphasis on youth in general and patients are getting more savvy about trying some anti-aging strategies.

"It's not invasive, it's not like plastic surgery," Dahlin adds. "In an hour you can go back to work -- you can get a Botox shot [for example] and go back to work, so there's very little downtime.

"There's very little cost, and many patients today are no longer ready to go under the knife but are looking for less invasive techniques like the ones we are performing in esthetic medicine.You don't change your appearance as much. You tend to look less tired, more refreshed."

Estheticians should be well groomed and have a professional appearance, says Winer. They should also have excellent communication skills.

"You need to be able to convey information to people in an articulate way," says Winer.

Educating clients is a big part of an esthetician's job.

"A lot of people have completely the wrong information when it comes to skin care," says Winer. "Some people think a bar of soap and a face scrub is great, but they're not. A bar of soap is breeding with bacteria."

Estheticians say that helping people improve their appearance can be very rewarding.

"Your client comes to you because they want to -- it's not like a doctor or dentist," says Malcolm. "You make people happy. That's what students say: 'I just want to make people happy.' And when clients leave they are happy."

Making clients happy is what Parker most enjoys about her career.

"The most rewarding thing for me when I'm treating patients is to educate people about why their skin looks the way it does and to see the joy in the face when they see what can be done without surgery," says Parker. "[I enjoy] helping people look good and feel good, and then they tell their friends about you."


National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers / Distributors and Associations (NCEA)
Offers certification for licensed estheticians

American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine
These board-certified physicians employ medical estheticians

Esthetician Career Options in the Medical Esthetics Setting
An informative article by a licensed esthetician

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support
  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900
  • North Dakota Career Resource Network
    ndcrn@nd.gov | (701) 328-9733