How to Transition from Cosmetology to Esthetics

Kim Burgett

Reviewed by beauty expert Kim Burgett

As a cosmetologist, you may have realized that the part of your job you like best is providing skin care services. Or, maybe your needs have changed, and you are looking for a job that requires less time on your feet. This article covers how to transition from working in the broader field of cosmetology to the narrower area of esthetics.

What is the Difference Between Cosmetology and Esthetics?

While there is some crossover between cosmetology and esthetics, the fields are different. Cosmetology is a broad field that allows you to work on hair, skin, and nails, while esthetics focuses predominantly on skin care.

Cosmetologists are trained to cut and color hair, perform nail services, provide basic skin care services such as facials, and apply makeup, among other things. Their most common working environments are salons, spas, or at special events, though they can work at any type of beauty business. Estheticians, on the other hand, practice more specialized skin care treatments, including identifying and treating skin conditions, performing facial massages, and deep cleaning the skin. They can work everywhere cosmetologists work, but they also work in medical spas and dermatologists' offices.

Do I Need a New License to Become an Esthetician?

Unfortunately, there isn't a straightforward answer to this question. You can, of course, provide services you were trained in during cosmetology school. However, if you want to call yourself an "esthetician," you generally need that specific license.

Your state's board can provide you with information relevant to your location. Although you will need additional training to earn an esthetics license, you usually won't have to start from scratch. Most states allow you to transfer credits from your cosmetology coursework—sometimes as many as half of the required courses—to an esthetician program.

Do I Need Additional Training?

To provide certain esthetics services under your cosmetology license, you may need to simply train in a new skill, rather than earning a separate esthetician license. In choosing what skills to train in, remember that the key to working in the beauty industry is to follow the trends. Learning to perform new esthetics services might simply involve informal training, but in other cases, they require coursework. For instance, if you want to learn to work with eyelashes—including tints, perms, and extensions—you will need to take classes and, based on your state, earn certification. Check with your local cosmetology schools to see if they offer individual courses in the services you are interested in. You can also check out websites like Eventbrite and Skin Inc. for listings of upcoming conventions or expos that provide classes.

Below are some other treatments requiring additional training. Some states may require certification or for you to be a fully licensed esthetician to practice these.

  • Eyebrow threading
  • Lash extensions, tinting, and perming
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Microneedling
  • Microblading

Additionally, training regulations can vary by esthetics equipment company. If you want to work with specific equipment for treatments, manufacturers may need proof you have esthetics licensure—or they might not. Either way, for specialized equipment, the company will provide training.

What Certifications Do I Need?

You can become certified in some esthetics treatments without an esthetics license. If a service can cause harm, you will likely need certification. As with many other beauty industry standards, requirements vary by state.

These are some of the common treatments that may require certification:

  • Chemical peels and other invasive anti-aging treatments
  • Dermaplaning
  • Electrolysis and other laser hair removal techniques
  • Medical-related treatments
  • Permanent makeup

Resources for Transitioning to Esthetics from Cosmetology

Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP)
ASCP is the most prominent organization for estheticians in the United States. Their website includes information and publications for estheticians and students as well as a state-by-state resource section.

International Committee of Aesthetics and Cosmetology (CIDESCO)
The world's most recognized qualification in esthetics and other beauty therapies, this organization offers several diplomas and certifications that show you have met the highest standards in the industry. CIDESCO programs may be provided at a local school, but if not, you can work with the school and organization to see if an individual exception can be made. As CIDESCO is recognized worldwide, you may be able to work on cruise ships or in foreign countries with their diplomas or certifications. You will still need state certification to work in the U.S.

This is one of two books widely accepted as training manuals for estheticians. It includes everything you need to know as an esthetician, from the history of the field to how-to guides about treatments. The company's website also offers a variety of resources like online courses and test prep.

Pivot Point
In addition to providing several online resources, Pivot Point includes the other books recommended for estheticians. The books offer extensive training as well as exam prep resources.

Skin Inc
This company publishes is the premier magazine for estheticians and others in the skin care industry. They provide a variety of resources, including information about continuing education courses and a calendar of educational expos. Additionally, the company runs one of the largest conventions for estheticians and spa owners.

Meet the Expert

Kim Burgett

Kim Burgett

Kim Burgett has worked as a cosmetologist, esthetician, and massage therapist in a number of salons. After years in the industry she had the opportunity to buy a cosmetology school, and she jumped on it. There she oversaw the daily operations of the school as acting owner/operator. Kim currently works as lead sales representative at a company that helps match students to beauty programs.

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