How Esthetics School Works

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Skin analysis is something you'll learn in esthetics school. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
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Image is everything, or so the saying goes. And since your face is typically what people see first, it's important to keep your skin in good shape if you want to make a stellar first impression. Aside from these "superficial" reasons to care for your skin, it's also important from a medical standpoint. After all, your skin is an organ, just like your heart, lungs and liver, and it needs attention just like those more celebrated body parts. Your skin protects your body, helps maintain body temperature and is vital for your sense of touch.

Skin care has come a long way over the years. So much so that there are schools dedicated solely to training students in the science of skin care. Estheticians specialize in skin care, and an experienced licensed esthetician can make a good living working in salons, spas, massage therapy clinics and even medical settings. If you think that all you learn about is mud masks and popping pimples, you'll be surprised to find out how much training an esthetics candidate must complete to obtain a license.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 30,000 estheticians working in the United States in 2005, with projected industry growth through 2014. What's the reason behind the growth? A large aging population of baby boomers, the increasing importance of physical appearance and the nascent field of medical esthetics.

So, what goes into an esthetics education and how much does it cost? We'll look at that and other specifics on the following pages.


Esthetics School Overview

Learning how to apply a mud mask is esthetics 101.
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Like most trade schools, esthetician school won't take you nearly as long to complete as an undergraduate program. Qualifications for getting an esthetician license varies from state to state, but you can generally count on spending about four to six months earning 600 credit hours in a standard esthetics program. Thirty-one states require the 600 hours for a basic license, nine come in under 600 hours and the rest range from 650 hours in Kansas and Montana to 1,500 in Alabama. Florida is the only state that doesn't require a license to work as an esthetician.

Most programs follow similar curriculum. You can count on learning about the following during your 600 hours of training:


  • Skin analysis
  • Body wraps
  • Waxing
  • Facials
  • Salt glows
  • Spa treatments
  • Aromatherapy
  • Makeup application

Advanced courses can earn you a master license. This means better pay and more opportunity. It also means more time, typically about 1,200 to 1,500 hours of training. In these programs, you'll study the basics in addition to learning how to perform chemical peels, laser hair removal, laser skin resurfacing and microdermabrasion, a process of using light abrasion to remove the outer layer of the skin. This technique is used to reduce the impact of scars, acne and skin discoloration.

In addition to practical training, many esthetics schools train students to deal with customers and offer courses on how to get work in the field and even open your own business. Some schools also offer help with job placement, just beware of institutions that promise placement. If you're not exactly the academic type, the good news is that like most trade schools, you only need a high school diploma or a GED to gain acceptance into esthetics school. Most applications require a nonrefundable deposit and an on-campus interview.

Another similarity to other trade schools is that there are a range of course schedules to accommodate students that have full- or part-time jobs or families. Evening and weekend courses are popular with students looking to explore esthetics opportunities on the side. And like other trade schools, they are commuter based, meaning you won't be likely find any on-campus living quarters available to you.


Tuition, Certification and Salary Expectations

A soothing full body treatment is something you'll learn as an esthetician.
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Paying for esthetics school is something you need to consider before you even apply. Financial aid is generally not available on the federal level, but some schools accept state funding if the student is eligible. The tuition rate varies from school to school, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 for a basic license and $8,000 and $10,000 for a master license. Schools that offer drastically reduced tuition rates are suspect and should be avoided -- like most things, you get what you pay for.

Becoming certified as an esthetician isn't as easy as completing the course work. You need to apply for certification in the state where you want to work. This means that it behooves you to go to school in the state where you desire employment because the curriculum will be tailored to meet those requirements. Each state has its own test, but they all have a written portion, accompanied by a practical, hands-on test. If you want to work as an esthetician, you might want to check into your state's testing requirements and compare them to the curriculum of potential schools.


In 2006, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average salary for an esthetician was a little under $30,000 [source:]. However, some schools claim that you can earn up to $60,000 per year if you work in a large market or a high-end spa or salon. Management opportunities may arise as well, allowing for even more earning potential.

Medical Esthetics

Learning holistic, revitalizing treatments is what esthetics school is all about.
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The growing field of medical esthetics is a popular option for many students studying in the field of skin care. Instead of working in a spa or salon, medical estheticians apply their trade in hospitals, doctor and dermatologist offices, and wellness and rehabilitation centers.

Patients suffering from diseases and conditions that can affect the hair and skin are the beneficiaries of this burgeoning line of work. Working as a medical esthetician is an emotionally challenging job because many of the patients are simultaneously undergoing long and painful medical procedures and treatments. Oftentimes, the patients are terminally ill, and it's the job of the esthetician to help them feel better about their physical appearances.


A medical esthetician may work in the cancer ward of a hospital, teaching women to apply concealing makeup or fitting them for a wig due to hair loss from radiation and chemotherapy. Another job a medical esthetician may perform is working in a hospital or rehabilitation clinic's burn unit, helping patients to care for and revitalize their skin. The same goes for accident victims who have noticeable or substantial scarring. Sufferers of severe acne may get help from a medical esthetician through their dermatologists. If you're a candidate for plastic surgery, you may need help from a medical esthetician for your pre- and postoperative skin care.

Working in the field of medical esthetics typically requires the same state board certification as a spa-based esthetician, but many schools have courses available that focus on the medical side of skin care. If you want to work in the medical field, you should inquire to different schools about these courses and, upon graduation, attempt to gain employment in some kind of medical facility, even if it isn't as a licensed esthetician.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Beautiful skin." 2010.
  • "Esthetician Career Guide." 2010.
  • "Esthetician Career Q & A." 2010.
  • "Esthetician Licensing Requirements." 2010.
  • "Esthetics Programs." 2010.
  • "Frequently Asked Questions." 2010.
  • "Georgia Board of Cosmetology." 2010.
  • "Medical Esthetics Training." 2010.
  • "Student Information." 2010.
  • "What is a Medical Esthetician?" 2010.
  • "Why Choose Von Lee International School of Aesthetics?" 2010.
  • Green, Kathleen. "Medical aesthetician." 2010.