What's the difference between a dermatologist and an esthetician?

A skin analysis can be performed by either an esthetician or a dermatologist.
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Caring for your skin is just as important as taking measures to ensure that your heart, lungs and other internal organs are functioning in a healthy manner. The skin is the largest organ we have and it serves several vital purposes: It protects our bodies, is necessary for our sense of touch and aids with body temperature regulation.

Aside from the biological job that skin performs, it's also front-and-center when it comes to your personal appearance. Problem skin can be embarrassing. In fact, it's so embarrassing that severe acne has been a factor in teen suicide rates. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health found that 13 percent of teenagers who had problem acne had attempted suicide and 34 percent had considered it. This sobering statistic is just one reason why skin conditions shouldn't be taken lightly as a mere cosmetic issue. How you look influences how you feel about yourself, and skin conditions can be difficult to overcome emotionally.


When it comes to caring for your skin, there are a few options. You can try to tackle them yourself. You can enlist the aid of an esthetician. Or you can make an appointment with a dermatologist. Knowing which course of action to take depends on your situation, but knowing the difference between the two professions can help you make your choice.

We'll look at these differences on the next page so you can make an informed choice next time you find an odd blotch or spot on your skin.


Dermatology vs. Esthetics

Facials are something you might get from an estchetician.
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The most important difference between a dermatologist and an esthetician is the schooling that's required for each profession. If you go see a dermatologist, you're seeing a doctor. This means that he or she completed four years of undergraduate work, three years of medical school and one to two years of residency and internship at a medical facility. He or she may also have received additional specialized training and education.

In contrast, an esthetician attends a trade school to learn the craft of skin care and has passed the state board exam. Passing this test gives the person a license to work in that state only as a standard or medical esthetician. The length of time that an esthetician puts into school is a fraction of what medical school entails. Most standard esthetic programs take between three and six months to complete anywhere from 250 to 1,500 hours of training, depending on the requirements of the state. Another difference is that an esthetics school candidate need only be at least 17 years old and have a high school diploma or GED certification.


Aside from the schooling, there are some major differences in the work itself. A dermatologist is trained to:

  • Diagnose and treat all skin disorders, abnormalities and diseases
  • Write prescriptions based on knowledge of skin care pharmaceuticals
  • Perform surgery on skin abnormalities
  • Detect and aid in the treatment of skin cancer

Training and study in esthetics school prepares a student for work with:

  • Facials
  • Body wraps
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Makeup application
  • Aromatherapy
  • Skin analysis

Masters licensing requires a little more schooling, but allows estheticians to perform procedures in laser hair removal, some forms of chemical peels and laser skin resurfacing. Many times master estheticians work under a doctor in a medical facility. There are also medical estheticians who work specifically with patients in treatment and recovery, helping them adapt to changes in their physical appearances. Cancer patients and burn and accident victims are typically assisted by a medical esthetician to help them overcome scarring and other procedural side effects like skin irritation and hair and eyebrow loss.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Bad acne in teens Linked to Suicide Attempts." Medindia.org. Nov. 13, 2006.http://www.medindia.net/news/Bad-acne-in-teens-Linked-to-Suicide-Attempts-15873-1.htm
  • "Dermatology." Mayoclinic.org. 2010.http://www.mayoclinic.org/dermatology/
  • "Skin Conditions: Assessing Your Skin Type." Webmd.com. 2010.http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/assessing-skin-type
  • "What is a Medical Esthetician?" Wisegeek.com. 2010.http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-medical-esthetician.htm
  • "Your Esthetician Education." Spabeautyed.com. 2010.http://www.spabeautyed.com/career-center/esthetician/
  • Green, Kathleen. "You're a what? Medical aesthetician." Bls.gov. 2010.http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2004/spring/yawhat.htm
  • LaGuardia, Gina. "Got an Eye for Beauty? Consider a Career as an Esthetician." Spabeautyschools.com. 2010.http://beauty.spabeautyschools.com/content/article/got-an-eye-for-beauty-consider-a-career-as-an-esthetician/936/