What’s an Esthetician? What’s a Dermatologist? What’s the Difference?

When it comes to caring for your skin, there are a few professionals who can help. Chief among them are estheticians and dermatologists. While both of these professionals can keep your skin healthy and glowing, they do so through different ways.

What’s an Esthetician?

Estheticians, sometimes called skin care specialists, are licensed professionals who tend to your body with noninvasive treatments.

“An esthetician’s main focus is on beautifying the epidermis — that’s the surface layer of the skin,” explains Dr. Susan Massick, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

[SEE 6 Foods for Healthy, Glowing Skin]

What Does an Esthetician Do?

Estheticians look after your skin and help you put your best face forward through a number of services.

Services estheticians provide

You might see an esthetician for:

Facials. Perhaps the quintessential esthetician service is the facial, and these can come in a spectrum of styles and varieties. Tailored to your skin’s unique needs, a facial involves cleansing and hydrating the skin, but it may also include applying specially formulated chemical compounds to the skin of the face and neck. These compounds can help remove dead skin cells and other debris to improve your skin’s appearance.

Microdermabrasion. This noninvasive treatment helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, acne scars, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation (dark spots) by exfoliating the top layer of skin. Removing that layer of dead cells encourages new skin cells underneath to come to the surface, giving you a healthy, more youthful appearance.

Chemical peels. Similar to microdermabrasion, chemical peels involve the application of a chemical solution that strips away the top layer of skin to reveal fresh skin underneath. It can help reduce wrinkles and acne scars and may leave you with a brighter complexion.

Waxing. Your esthetician can remove any unwanted hair with waxing. Some estheticians also use threading or laser hair removal techniques to remove hair you don’t want.

Body wraps. A body wrap is similar to a facial in that the esthetician will apply a specially formulated mask (often containing mud, clay, seaweed or algae) to the skin. They then wrap you in a specialized sheet to help keep moisture in while encouraging the pores to open up. This way, the skin can release toxins and absorb nutrients from the mask.

Spray tans. Lying in the sun for hours to get the ever-popular bronzed look is a great way to increase your risk of developing skin cancer in the future. Instead of adding to that risk, you can visit an esthetician for a spray tan. This chemical solution is sprayed on the skin to mimic the look of a golden tan.

Makeup applications. Estheticians can help you find the perfect makeup for a special occasion or even just everyday wear. They can also teach you how to apply makeup and what techniques to use to emphasize certain features while downplaying others.

Eyelash extensions. Huge, lush lashes are all the rage, but if you’re tired of glopping on the mascara or don’t like the look of temporary false eyelashes, some estheticians can help you bulk up your lashes with natural-looking eyelash extensions. This semi-permanent solution involves carefully gluing individual faux mink or silk lash fibers to your natural lashes to create a longer, fuller effect.

Eyebrow tinting. If you’re changing your hair color, sometimes it makes sense to change your eyebrow color to match. This procedure can be tricky because you don’t want hair dye in your eyes, but some estheticians are trained to safely dye your eyebrows.

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Services estheticians don’t or can’t provide

While specific regulations can vary somewhat by state, estheticians can only perform services that affect the top layers of the skin. They cannot perform any surgical, invasive or medical procedures. This means that they can’t provide Botox or Restylane injections or administer deep chemical peels or laser treatments.

Estheticians also aren’t authorized in most states to remove milia, the tiny white bumps that sometimes form around the eyes or eyelids, or to treat severe cases of acne. In addition, they cannot diagnose conditions or prescribe medications.

[READ Best Acne Treatments and Creams]

How to Become an Esthetician: Training and Credentials

Estheticians attend cosmetology training programs. On average, these training programs run about 300 to 600 hours or more in total, but that number can vary depending on the state. These programs usually take six to 12 months to complete.

To practice, an esthetician must be licensed by the state. Each state has its own requirements and guidelines for becoming licensed.

Where Do Estheticians Work?

Estheticians typically work in a day spa or salon setting. Sometimes, they may work alongside massage therapists.

What’s a Dermatologist?

Where an esthetician works to beautify the outward appearance of your skin, a dermatologist works to keep it healthy from the inside out.

“A dermatologist is a medical doctor or physician who has completed four years of medical school and four years of residency training in dermatology, which encompasses all conditions affecting the skin, hair and nails,” Massick explains.

All that training means that “dermatologists can assess, diagnose and treat dermatologic medical issues as well as perform surgical and cosmetic procedures,” she adds.

A dermatologist sees patients in a medical office or clinic.

What Does a Dermatologist Do?

A dermatologist is primarily tasked with caring for your skin, your body’s largest organ.

“Dermatologists treat healthy skin but also skin diseases,” says Dr. Mariano Busso, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Miami.

Skin cancers, acne, psoriasis and eczema, for example, all fall under a dermatologist’s expertise.

Services dermatologists provide

Dermatologists can diagnose and treat conditions affecting the skin, hair and nails. Some dermatologists are surgeons who use surgical techniques to treat skin problems.

Some dermatological conditions might require hospital admission, while others may need prescription medications.

Services dermatologists don’t or can’t provide

Dermatologists don’t typically provide cosmetic procedures, such as facials, waxing, tanning and other surface appearance-focused services. They can, however, help with treating scars related to a medical issue or diagnosing underlying issues potentially contributing to cosmetic concerns, such as hair loss, cracked nails and hyperpigmented skin.

How to Become a Dermatologist: Training and Credentials

It takes a lot of schooling and training to become a dermatologist, Massick explains. In addition to their years of college and medical school, a dermatologist must complete one year of internship training and three years of residency training. Many dermatologists also complete a one- to three-year fellowship. This fellowship isn’t mandatory, but it is a way to gain additional training in a subspecialty field.

“To practice dermatology, you must pass the American Board of Dermatology board certification exam and ongoing recertification exams, maintain an active state medical license and stay informed on the current standards of care with continuing medical education requirements,” Massick adds.

When to See an Esthetician vs. a Dermatologist

If you’re uncertain whether you need to see an esthetician or a dermatologist for a specific procedure or service, you’re not alone, Busso says.

“There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about just this topic as there have been some cases of estheticians offering services beyond what they were trained for.”

There is a vast difference in the level of schooling estheticians must complete to gain licensure and what dermatologists must complete in order to practice.

“I don’t mean to denigrate estheticians, as most are very professional and perform great work, with the creme de la creme oftentimes working in dermatologists’ and plastic surgeons’ offices,” Busso says, adding, “Because dermatologists have studied and are experienced in the field, they can diagnose patients and offer treatment regimens that venture way beyond what an esthetician is qualified to do.”

In short, Busso says, estheticians are “generally expert at exfoliating, waxing and conducting other surface procedures that beautify the skin. Many are also trained in laser technology, but I recommend that this service be performed under a dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s supervision.” Generally speaking, “a dermatologist can perform an esthetician’s work; however, an esthetician cannot perform a dermatologist’s work.”

The Different Services Offered by Dermatologists and Estheticians


How to Find an Esthetician or Dermatologist?

If you’re looking for a qualified dermatologist, you can search the U.S. News database of board-certified practitioners.

“There are so many new advances in the field of skin care that didn’t exist even a few years ago,” Busso says. “It’s ever-evolving, and consumers have so many options at their disposal. So, do your research, find estheticians and/or dermatologists in your area, make an appointment, ask for referrals and don’t rush into making a decision until you are ready to do so. Making the right decision can change your life.”

The Bottom Line

Estheticians and dermatologists are two different professionals who can help keep your skin healthy and looking great well into the future. Many people visit both of them throughout the course of their life, and sometimes the two professionals work closely together. They can help you look and feel your best in the skin that you’re in.

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What?s an Esthetician? What?s a Dermatologist? What?s the Difference? originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 06/14/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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