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What’s the difference between a cosmetologist and an esthetician?

Updated: Nov 17



If you have a passion for all thing’s beauty, chances are you've considered a career as an esthetician or a cosmetologist. But what's the difference between a cosmetologist and an esthetician? And how do their jobs compare to what dermatologists do? We've put together this helpful guide to go through the differences and similarities between each role to help you figure out which career choice might be best for you.


What is an esthetician?

In the simplest terms, estheticians work to make their clients' skin look as best as it possibly can. They do this by combining scientific knowledge with practical know-how to take care of their clients. Estheticians work in a range of different settings from salons and spas to medical offices where they work alongside dermatologists.


What qualifications do you need to become an esthetician?

Esthetician training generally takes around six months but required training hours vary by state and can take longer if you choose to specialize as a paramedical esthetician. If you want to train to be an esthetician you will need to be caring, have good empathy, and be able to share information clearly with their clients.


What does an esthetician do?

Most estheticians work with their clients to improve the cosmetic appearance of their skin. Each day is different for estheticians and will depend on where you practice your craft. But common tasks include analyzing clients' skincare needs, advising clients on which skincare products and ingredients are best suited to their skin type, and carrying out treatments such as facials, exfoliation, and waxing.


You may choose to specialize as a paramedical esthetician. The main difference between a medical esthetician vs. an esthetician is where they practice. Medical estheticians generally work alongside medical professionals, often in a dermatology practice, but they can also work in other settings where patients receive medical treatment than can affect their skin. Some people like the idea of becoming a medical esthetician because they want the opportunity to help people when they're sick, offering their knowledge and expertise to guide them through side effects from drugs including chemotherapy.


What is a cosmetologist?

Cosmetologists work on their clients' skin, hair, and nails. Cosmetologists use a wide range of skills to transform their clients using makeup, hair styling, and hair coloring. As a cosmetologist, you would be able to work in spas and salons


What qualifications do you need to become a cosmetologist?

Cosmetologist training generally takes around 40 weeks and can take longer if you choose to specialize. If you want to train to be a cosmetologist, you will need to be artistic, be a good listener, and have a passion for working with people.


What does a cosmetologist do?

Cosmetologists offer a lot of different treatments to their clients. Depending on what you enjoy, you can specialize in makeup, hair care, or nail care as you progress in your career. Cosmetologists can become makeup artists, nail artists, hairstylists, or colorists. Some salons employ cosmetologists to offer a combination of these services whilst others look for specialized staff to offer a single service.


When comparing esthetician vs. cosmetologist roles, people sometimes ask whether you can work as an esthetician with a cosmetology license? Unfortunately, you can't automatically, but you can take a specific licensing exam to become an esthetician alongside working as a cosmetologist if that's something you're interested in pursuing. It can be super interesting to train for both roles, especially if you're hoping to open your own salon one day.


What is a dermatologist?

Dermatologists are medical doctors who specialize in treating skin, hair, and nail conditions. Some dermatologists offer minimally invasive procedures including chemical peels and injectables such as fillers.


What qualifications do you need to become a dermatologist?

Becoming a dermatologist generally takes around 12 years of post-secondary education. If you want to train to be a dermatologist, you will need to have an interest in developing specialist knowledge of skin conditions and anatomy. Dermatologists have to complete a bachelor's degree, medical school, and four years of residency to qualify.


What does a dermatologist do?

Dermatologists work to treat patients for a very wide range of conditions including everything from acne to skin cancers. Dermatologists often specialize in skincare though, and in these instances, there are parallels between the services they offer, and the ones offered by cosmetologists and estheticians. However, when comparing esthetician vs. dermatologist jobs there are some specialized treatments that only dermatologists can carry out including the removal of cancerous tissue for example.


You will often find that dermatologists work closely with other skincare professionals including estheticians, especially when a patient needs ongoing treating to look after a chronic condition such as acne. Once the dermatologist has diagnosed the issue, they may refer their patient to an esthetician for regular facials or other treatments.


How do I decide what career is right for me?

Deciding which career path is right for you can be difficult; however, understanding each job role thoroughly is often helpful. If you're looking to help your future clients get better skin and feel better about themselves then esthetician training could be right for you. If you're looking to use your artistic flair more, or if you would like to work on clients' hair and nails as well as their skin, then cosmetology would be a better choice. Finally, if you'd like to offer medical treatments and carry out minimally invasive procedures, you may prefer to look into becoming a board-certified dermatologist.


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