Top 5 Tips for Choosing an Esthetician

By: Stephanie Watson

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Your skin is one of the first things that people notice about you; why trust it to just anyone? See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
Nacivet/Getty Images

Your skin is the single biggest organ in your body. It's one of the first things people notice about you, so it makes sense that you'd want to keep it looking its best.

A whole industry has sprung up around the quest for beautiful-looking skin. The people who help keep your face looking gorgeous are called estheticians (sometimes spelled "aesthetician"). When skin care treatments first gained popularity in the U.S., facials were among the few services available. Today, estheticians have broadened their job descriptions. They also tint eyebrows, perform microdermabrasion procedures, remove unwanted hair, perform laser resurfacing treatments, and apply a variety of cosmetics and chemical peels. Estheticians can work in salons or spas; those who work with doctors in medical offices are called medical estheticians.


You don't want to trust just anyone with your skin, especially when chemicals and lasers are being applied to it. That's why it's important to choose your esthetician wisely. In this article, you'll learn a few tips for picking a practitioner with the skills and expertise to help you present your best face to the world.

5. Know What You Want

Know what you want to get out of your treatment, whether it's clearer skin or just an hour of relaxation and pampering -- and don't be afraid to communicate those wants to your esthetician. "I think it's absolutely okay to let their esthetician know what their expectations are because that allows the esthetician to meet those expectations," says Katie Hamilton, Program Coordinator and Esthetician with Associated Skincare Professionals (ASCP). That includes telling your esthetician about any personal preferences; for example, that you like a particularly gentle touch, or that you'd rather she not talk during the treatment.

Let your esthetician know about any problems or issues you're having with your skin. "Everybody knows if they have sensitive skin that reacts to new products, or whether they're prone to new breakouts, or if their skin is really tough," says Tami Meraglia, M.D., Medical Director and Owner of Vitality Medispa and Wellness Center in Seattle, Wash. If you don't tell your esthetician about these issues ahead of time, you could walk out with a bad reaction from the products used.


Be clear on how much you want to spend. Skin care service prices can vary widely depending on where you live (big cities like Los Angeles and New York are typically more expensive than small towns) and what type of facility you visit (spas and hotels tend to be pricier than salons). Find out what the facility charges before you go or you might end up with a severe case of sticker shock.

4. Research Your Esthetician

The purpose of going to an esthetician is to improve the look of your skin. If your esthetician has a face full of blackheads, you know you've come to the wrong place. "They should be able to walk their walk and talk their talk," explains Susanne Warfield, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors and Associations (NCEA).

Talking the talk means staying on top of the latest advancements in their industry by joining a professional organization, reading trade publications, and taking advanced and continuing education skin care classes. In other words, when you ask your esthetician about the latest dermabrasion technique or chemical peel, he or she should know exactly what you're talking about.


When you go in to have your service, the esthetician should have you fill out a client lifestyle form, which includes questions about your general health, medications, allergies and what skin care products you're using at home. "If they haven't asked you any of those things, you certainly don't want them doing any chemical treatments on you or doing any treatments using laser or light therapy," Warfield says. The esthetician should also explain the risks and benefits of having the treatment (which usually is done by having you sign a consent form), clearly communicate what's going to happen during your treatment and answer any questions you have.

There are also a few things the esthetician shouldn't be doing, like gossiping about other customers (which means your confidential information is also not safe), pressuring you into buying products or services you don't want, and offering you unrealistic expectations ("You're going to look 20 years younger!").

3. Screen the Facility

Before making your appointment, pay a surprise visit to the spa or salon. If you discover an untidy and dirty waiting area, you can only imagine what the treatment rooms are going to look like. "You definitely want to look for cleanliness, because you don't want to go to a dirty spa," explains Hamilton. If you do, you run the risk of leaving with a nasty infection.

When you walk into the actual procedure room (and the facility should let you see a treatment room, provided that it isn't in use), make sure the sheets are clean, and the implements used are either sterilized (which is usually done with UV light) or disposable [sources: Warfield, Meraglia].


Because there aren't any real guidelines governing the industry, use your own cleanliness standards as a guide. For example, during waxing, many estheticians will use a new stick every single time they dip into the wax. Others will only change the stick between treatments (you absolutely shouldn't get the stick that was used on the last person). Many estheticians wear gloves, which are important to help prevent the spread of infection, but some customers don't like the feel of gloves on their skin. Remember that the more stringent the cleanliness standards are, the less likely you're going to have a problem after your treatment.

2. Get a Recommendation

You can find a great esthetician through word-of-mouth recommendations.
You can find a great esthetician through word-of-mouth recommendations.
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

You ask your friends for advice on restaurants and hotels, so why not do the same when choosing an esthetician? Most estheticians get the bulk of their clients through word-of-mouth recommendations, because it's great advertising [source: Hamilton]. If your best friend's skin is glowing, you know she's probably going to someone good. When you get a recommendation, ask a lot of questions, such as what products the esthetician uses and how he or she performs the services provided.

In addition to talking to your friends, you can check online for advice. Web sites like Yelp and offer reviews from consumers just like you. Look for spas and salons that get consistently high ratings. You can also ask your friends on various social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace for recommendations.


When you find a facility that looks promising, check with your state's Board of Cosmetology or the Better Business Bureau to make sure there haven't been any complaints filed against your prospective esthetician or the spa in which they work.

Finally, visit the salon or spa's website. It will give you a good overall impression of the esthetician's experience, technique and the services they offer. "A lot of times the personality of the esthetician or what their idea of good skin care is comes across on the Web site," Hamilton says.

1. Do Your Research

For a state-by-state guide to NCEA-certified estheticians, visit the NCEA Web site. Associated Skincare Professionals members have completed training from esthetician school and have met all of their state's requirements. They also have pledged to abide by the ASCP's Code of Ethics. That group also has a directory of its members.

Before you walk into your neighborhood spa and make an appointment, do your homework. Make sure the esthetician you're going to be visiting is trained and licensed (they should have their photo license posted where you can see it). Unfortunately, there aren't any industry-wide standards for estheticians. Licensing is done on a state-by-state basis, and the training requirements for each state vary significantly.


Currently, every state except Connecticut requires that estheticians be licensed to practice, but the amount of training needed to get that license can range from as little as 260 hours in Florida to 1,500 hours in Alabama [sources:, ASCP]. Two states -- Virginia and Utah -- have a tiered licensing process. After 600 hours of training, estheticians can become licensed. Once they reach 1,200 hours, they become master estheticians who can focus more on medical esthetics. Visit your state Board of Cosmetology's website to learn its requirements.

Which esthetician you visit will depend on what kind of service you want. "You have to consider the level of training for the procedure you're getting," says Meraglia. If your goal is to have a relaxing facial, going to a spa or salon is fine. But if you want a laser procedure or medical-grade chemical peel, you'll want to choose a medical esthetician who works with a doctor and who has had additional training in these procedures, she advises.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • ASCP. "Skincare Professionals Fact Sheet." (Accessed December 29, 2009)
  • (Accessed December 29, 2009)
  • California Employment Development Department. "Labor Market Information: Skincare Specialists (Estheticians)." (Accessed December 27, 2009)
  • Interview with Katie Hamilton, Program Coordinator and esthetician, Associated Skincare Professionals. December 29, 2009.
  • Interview with Susanne Warfield, Executive Director, National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors and Associations. December 28, 2009.
  • Interview with Tami Meraglia, M.D., Medical Director and Owner of Vitality Medispa and Wellness Center in Seattle, Washington. December 31, 2009.
  • NCEA. "About Certification." (Accessed December 29, 2009)