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Esthetician vs. Cosmetologist Explained

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, estheticians and cosmetologists are both types of "personal appearance workers," in the beauty industry responsible for improving and maintaining the beauty of their clients. However, esthetics focuses only on the health of a client's skin and skin care, while cosmetology offers a wide range of beauty services involving the hair, skin, and nails.


Cosmetologists, also called beauty professionals, 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 providing makeup application.


Cosmetologists generally have a far wider range of beauty services 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 perform hairstyling and haircutting. They are performing the duties of a wide variety of beauty professionals, like a makeup artist, hairstylist, and nail technician, all in one.

In addition to those tasks, cosmetologists and estheticians may perform hair removal services and extract body hair through waxing, shaving or laser treatments.

Estheticians are skin care specialists and can provide specialty skin care services like chemical peels, exfoliation, microdermabrasion, and other skin care treatments. Esthetician program training programs typically require 600 hours. You’ll learn about skin anatomy, performing facials, skin treatments, body wraps, light therapy and permanent makeup.

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.

Hair coloring is a highly prized cosmetologist speciality, some Beverly Hills salons offer $100k-$130k salaries for experienced hair colorists.

Estheticians too can be either general skin treatment workers or specialize in a particular procedure such as a facial massage or a skin extraction. Skin conditions are often the domain of a dermatologist, but an esthetician license can be obtained with a high school diploma.


Many cosmetologists and estheticians are required to hold licensure 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 cosmetology licenses for the profession as a whole.

Because they conduct fewer procedures, practicing esthetics generally have less stringent licensing requirements. They often will receive an esthetician license from a cosmetology school or beauty school, or even a specialized esthetics program.

However, some may be required, or choose, to receive a general cosmetology license and learn about other aspects of cosmetology through a general cosmetology program, despite specializing only in skin care.


Esthetics and cosmetology are so closely related 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, since they have many similarities in their career paths.


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