Esthetician License: How to Become a Skincare Professional

Estheticians are licensed to beautify and heal the skin. The requirements to become an esthetician vary by state, but you can expect some fairly common things.

Read on to learn what it takes to earn an esthetician license.

How to Become a Licensed Esthetician

To become a licensed esthetician, you have to:

  1. Complete a state-approved esthetician training program or apprenticeship (if allowed).
  2. Take and pass all required exams.
  3. Submit an esthetician license application and pay a license fee to the state.

Let's take a look at each step in more detail.

Jump to Esthetician Training Hours and Exam Requirements by State

Step 1: Complete Esthetician School or an Esthetician Apprenticeship

No matter where you live in the U.S., you need supervised training to become an esthetician. So, the first step to becoming an esthetician is enrolling in an esthetics program or apprenticeship.

The curriculum varies by state and program. Whether you learn in classes or an apprenticeship, the state-approved training should prepare you for licensure tests.

Esthetician School

Most licensed estheticians get their training in esthetician school. These programs may be offered at beauty schools also offering related programs (such as cosmetology or barbering) or esthetician schools that specialize in training skincare professionals. You could also find some esthetician programs at community colleges or even in high school or adult career and technical education institutions in your area.

The average esthetician school program lasts approximately 600 hours. But, hours range from around 220 hours (Florida) to over 1,000 hours (Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas).

Your program may include, but isn't limited to, the following classes:

  • Sanitation and safety
  • Skin conditions
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Facials
  • Makeup application
  • State laws
  • Business skills

Esthetician Apprenticeship

Some states allow another path to get your esthetician training: approved apprenticeships.

As an apprentice, you should spend most of your time in a real-world setting with clients and one-on-one training under the supervision of an approved licensed esthetician. In some cases, even with an apprenticeship, you may need to take a few courses at a local institution to satisfy your state's requirements for esthetician licensure.

Apprentices are generally paid at least minimum wage, though they may have to cover some up-front costs. It's important to note that the number of hours you need to log for your esthetician training through an apprenticeship is much more than the state-required training hours through an esthetician school.

Step 2: Pass the State Esthetician Exam

Besides completing esthetician training, you must pass your state's esthetician exams (except in Connecticut or Florida, where an exam is not required).

Most states require estheticians to take two exams: theory (written) and practical (hands-on).

The theory/written esthetics exams may remind you of the standardized tests you took in school, where you sat at a computer or desk and answered questions. While some may include writing step-by-step treatment instructions, most questions cover sanitation, laws, science, and other concepts.

Meanwhile, the practical exams involve performing specific treatments on real people or mannequins while being evaluated.

Many states use the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) exams as their esthetician licensure tests. But, some use tests from other large organizations or create their own.

If you need ADA (disability) accommodations, relevant paperwork must also be submitted before the exam.

Step 3: Apply with Esthetician Licensure Documents and a Fee

When you submit a formal application for an esthetician license, you need to have supporting documents ready to include. Typical paperwork you may need to submit are:

  • Identification, such as the copy of your driver's license
  • Proof of high school diploma or GED
  • Esthetician program transcripts
  • Test scores
  • Proof of address
  • Forms relating to any criminal background
  • Medical forms
  • Citizenship, immigration status, or visa papers

How Much Does Esthetician Licensure Cost?

The amount you pay for your esthetician license falls into different categories: the state's application fee, the exam fee, and the training fee (if you attend an approved esthetician school for your training).

Many states combine licensure and exam fees, but others separate the two. Regardless, most require additional fees if you have to take the tests more than once. The application fee for processing your esthetician license varies by state but is often less than $100. While students usually pay out of pocket for exams and licensure, some esthetician schools may cover the costs as part of the tuition and fees—at least for the initial application following graduation.

The training cost to become an esthetician is obviously the more expensive portion. According to AACS, most esthetician programs cost between $3,000-$10,000.

These fees don't include additional costs for remaining licensed, including continuing education credits needed to remain current (required by some states) and a fee to renew the esthetician license. These fees can run between about $20 and $200 and are usually due every couple of years. Some states offer discounts for military members or spouses.

Esthetics License vs. Cosmetology License

What you can do with an esthetician license is narrower in scope than what you can do with a cosmetology license. Cosmetology licensure encompasses nearly all other beauty licenses, while esthetics is a narrower field focused on skincare. Esthetics focuses on skincare and skin beauty, while cosmetology also includes hair, nail care, and more.

An esthetics license is typically faster and less expensive to obtain than a cosmetology license because the training requirements are shorter. Cosmetology programs typically require 1,200 to 1,600 hours over one year, while esthetics programs average 600 hours over six months. The time and scope of coursework usually make cosmetology classes cost way more than esthetics ones.

Despite this, estheticians can be paid more than cosmetologists. As of 2021, esthetician pay averaged around $37,300 per year or $17.93 per hour. Meanwhile, cosmetologists earned an average of $35,990 or $17.30 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Continuing Education and Maintaining Licensure

Esthetician licensure is not a one-and-done process. You need to renew your license periodically to keep practicing esthetics in your state.

As with initial licensure, esthetician state boards determine renewal requirements. These decisions include:

  • How often licenses must be renewed
  • Renewal costs
  • Late renewal costs
  • Ways to get back an expired license
  • Types and amount of continuing education needed to renew

Most states have licensure renewal every other year, though this can vary.

Continuing education allows you to refresh old skills and learn new ones. Not every state requires coursework to renew licensure, but most require five to 10 hours.

Even if your state doesn't mandate continuing education, it doesn't hurt to take classes anyway to stay current with trends and new techniques.

What Is the Difference Between Esthetician Licensing and Certification?

An esthetician license is very different from esthetician certification. An esthetician license is required by your state to practice esthetics. Esthetician certification, on the other hand, shows that you have completed other voluntary study in the esthetics field, usually in a specialized niche of esthetics or in advanced esthetics.

Esthetics Certifications

Two popular esthetics certifications are:

  • CIDESCO: International certifications in a variety of areas, which may allow you to work in different countries
  • National Esthetician Certification: Covers a wide range of advanced esthetics topics, ultimately training successful graduates in the skills typically reserved for master estheticians

You can also look for certifications from independent agencies or state boards.

What Esthetics Certifications Are For

Esthetics certifications may help you gain employment and provide specialized treatments through education and, at times, organizational memberships.

Specialty certification can include subjects that aren't covered by esthetics programs. For example, eyebrow threading isn't necessarily covered by the average esthetics curriculum, but you could get certified in the procedure.

There are also large-scale advanced certifications, which are often the equivalent of (but not usually a replacement for) advanced esthetician licenses. For these, you take standardized classes through a national or international organization and, if successful, earn certification. Some certifications may open the door to job opportunities unavailable to other people who aren’t certified.

Esthetician Training Hours and Exams by State

State School Training Hours Apprenticeship Hours Exams Required
Alabama 1,000 2,000 Theory, practical
Alaska 350 350 Proficiency exam at school/program
Arizona 600 N/A Theory, practical
Arkansas 600 N/A Theory, practical
California 600 N/A Theory
Colorado 600 hours OR 20 credits N/A Theory, practical
Connecticut 600 N/A N/A
Delaware 600 1,200 Theory, practical
D.C. 600 N/A Theory, practical
Florida 220 (facial specialist) N/A N/A
Georgia 1,000 2,000 Theory, practical
Hawaii 600 1,200 Theory
Idaho 600 1,200 Theory, practical
Illinois 750 N/A Theory
Indiana 700 N/A Theory, practical
Iowa 600 N/A Theory
Kansas 1,000 N/A Theory
Kentucky 750 N/A Theory, practical
Louisiana 750 N/A Theory, practical
Maine 600 1,000 Theory, practical
Maryland 600 12 months at 20 hours/week Theory, practical
Massachusetts 300 N/A Theory, practical
Michigan 400 400 hours in 6 months Theory, practical
Minnesota 600 N/A Theory, practical
Mississippi 600 N/A Theory, practical
Missouri 750 1,500 Theory, practical
Montana 650 N/A Theory, practical
Nebraska 600 600 Theory
Nevada 600 1,200 Theory, practical
New Hampshire 600 1,200 Theory, practical
New Jersey 600 N/A Theory
New Mexico 600 N/A Theory, practical
New York 600 N/A Theory, practical
North Carolina 600 N/A Theory, practical
North Dakota 600 N/A Theory, practical
Ohio 600 N/A Theory, practical
Oklahoma 600 1,200 Theory, practical
Oregon 444 (including 220 practical operations) OR proven competency N/A Theory, practical
Pennsylvania 300 N/A Theory
Rhode Island 600 N/A Theory, practical
South Carolina 450 N/A Theory, practical
South Dakota 600 600 Theory
Tennessee 750 N/A Theory, practical
Texas 750 N/A Theory, practical
Utah 600 800 Theory, practical
Vermont 500 750 Theory, practical
Virginia 600 2,000 Theory, practical
Washington 750 2,144 Theory, practical
West Virginia 600 N/A Theory, practical
Wisconsin 450 450 Theory, practical
Wyoming 600 N/A Theory, practical

Sources: NIC State Education and Licensing Guide, state government pages (2022)

This chart only covers core esthetics programs. Advanced/master esthetics and esthetics instructor programs may have different requirements.


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