According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, estheticians and cosmetologists are both types of "personal appearance workers," responsible for improving and maintaining the beauty of their clients. However, while cosmetologists offer a wide range of services involving the hair, skin and nails, estheticians focus only on the health of a client's skin.
Cosmetologists, also called beauty operators, hairdressers or beauticians, focus on all aspects of a person's personal appearance, including hair, nails and skin. Cosmetologists may cut and style their clients' hair, administer scalp treatments and facials, and paint or shape their clients' nails with polish and emery boards. By contrast, estheticians perform a variety of treatments on the skin, such as providing head and neck massages, administering facials and applying makeup.
Cosmetologists generally have a far wider range of duties than estheticians, although they also share a common set of tasks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cosmetologists may give manicures, pedicures, and scalp and facial treatments; put on makeup, and style wigs and hairpieces. In addition to those tasks, cosmetologists and estheticians may extract body hair through waxing, shaving or laser treatments. Both professions are charged with offering advice and beauty tips to clients, as well as selling beauty products.
Some cosmetologists are generalists, responsible for a wide variety of tasks, while others may be specialists. Those responsible for nail care, for example, may be considered manicurists, while those who specialize in hair treatments may be called hair stylists. Estheticians too can be either general skin treatment workers or specialize in a particular procedure such as a facial massage or a skin extraction.
Many cosmetologists and estheticians are required to hold licenses to practice their trade professionally. License requirements vary among states, with some requiring special licenses for certain types of cosmetology--such as nail care, hair care and skin care--and others offering licenses for the profession as a whole. Because they conduct fewer procedures, estheticians generally face less stringent licensing requirements. However, many may be required to receive a general cosmetologist's license, despite specializing only in skin care.
Estheticians are so closely related to cosmetologists that the terms can generate some confusion. In general, estheticians can be considered a subset of cosmetologists. So, while an esthetician is a type of cosmetologist, a cosmetologist is only an esthetician if the individual's duties include taking care of the skin. However, it is not uncommon for estheticians to be assigned extra duties in addition to their primary tasks, leading some salons to use the terms interchangeably.