Should I Go to Esthetician School?

Esthetician giving facial

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Being an esthetician, a skincare professional, can be a rewarding and lucrative way to make a living, usually at a day spa, resort spa, or medical spa. The esthetician's core skills are giving facials, body treatments, and performing waxing. More advanced skills include working with machines like IPL and lasers to rejuvenate the skin and permanently remove hair. You are also expected to sell skincare products to clients, which can help raise your income through commission.

An esthetics license can also give you a good foundation for other career opportunities, like a make-up artist, salesperson, manufacturer's rep, beauty writer/blogger, or public relations rep specializing in beauty lines. But don't expect to get your license and be hired based on that. You are developing expertise and credentials, an add-on to other skills and work experience you already possess.

Esthetics school is an investment of time, energy, and money. Requirements vary from state to state, but the majority of states require that you complete at least 600 hours of training. Full-time school can take an average of six months to complete, and part-time school can take anywhere from 9-12 months. The primary purpose of esthetics school is to get you ready to pass the state licensing exam. They also teach basic skills that you will need to perfect through experience and sometimes additional classes. 

The Market Realities of Being an Esthetician

Once you have passed the state exam, what are the market realities? While spas are growing, there is much less demand for estheticians than massage therapists. Since spas hire fewer estheticians overall, it can be hard to get that first job. 

Also, many massage therapists are going back to school to get their esthetics license so they can give both facials and massage.  This trend toward dual-licensing has made it even more difficult for estheticians to find full-time work in spas. Resort and hotel spas are offering expensive services, so they will prefer to hire estheticians with a few years' experience. These are also highly coveted jobs, so the turnover is not usually high. 

More Chain Jobs Available

While it can be tough to find that first job in a busy spa, there are more chains now, making it easier to find an entry-level place where you can hone your skills. The fast-growing beauty chain ULTA employs estheticians to give Dermalogica facials, peels, and microdermabrasion at a reasonably low cost. You will also be expected to wax, tint brows and eyelashes, apply eyelash extensions and sell additional services. There are currently 1,264 ULTA stores across 50 states.

With 1,100 locations in 49 states, the franchise chain Massage Envy is another good place to look for work. Massage Envy's business model is to offer relatively low-cost services to members who have purchased a monthly service. You are paid less per service than at most day spas or resort spas, but you will likely be busier. And there is always the opportunity to make extra money through commissions selling skincare products. 

The Downsides of Working as an Esthetician

You usually enter a spa at the bottom of the totem pole, and the estheticians who have been there longer get the busier days and shifts (during the day on Saturdays and Sundays). Depending on the spa's rules of booking, a more senior esthetician might be booked entirely before you get your first appointment. Some spas do try to spread the reservations out amongst the estheticians. 

If you don't have any appointments for the day, some spas will put you "on call." You have to be available if someone requests a facial, but you aren't compensated unless they call you in. Most spas also get most of their business on weekends, so be prepared to work on Saturday and Sunday (if you are fortunate enough to get those days).

Be Wary of Big Salary Claims

An esthetics school is in the business of attracting new students. In other words, they’re selling themselves. Be skeptical if they talk about their graduates who are making $50,000 to $75,000 a year. This is the VERY RARE exception.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that skincare specialists made a median wage of $16.39 an hour in 2018. The highest-paid 10% in the profession earned more than $30.07 an hour, while the lowest-paid 10% earned less than $9.85. The good news is that they reported that there are 55,000 jobs out there currently, and the field is expected to grow at a rate of 11% from 2018 to 2028. 

Improving Your Chances of Success

It's best if you know you will have a job waiting for you when you finish school. Perhaps you already work at a spa at the front desk and the spa director has promised to hire you, or someone you know owns the spa. 

Just getting your license and then starting to look for a job as an esthetician is the hardest. A few things can help bring you to the front of the pack: 

  • Be highly motivated to learn everything you can and develop good sanitation habits. 
  • Work on your "touch" and try to get a good 60-minute facial together while you're in school. 
  • When you graduate, take a class in speed waxing. Waxing is an important skill to have.
  • It helps if you have good skin, excellent people skills, and know how to sell. 

Define Why You Want to Go to Esthetics School

Before you go to esthetics school, define why you are doing it. Do you want to work as an esthetician? Do you want to be a beauty specialist in the corporate world? Whatever you have in mind, research the realities of the marketplace by talking to people in the business. 

Talk to other estheticians and ask them about the realities of the workplace: market demand, starting salaries, stress levels, and what the best and worst parts of the job are.  Call the owners or spa directors at spas where you would like to work and tell them that you're considering going to esthetician school. Find out if they consider hiring people right out of school. 

Whenever you talk to someone in the business, ask which esthetics school they went to or hire from. That will give you a good idea which esthetician schools have the best reputations

Finding the Right School for You

At this point, you should have a better idea about the realities of the marketplace. If it still makes sense to go ahead, research schools. Make a list of the esthetics schools in the state where you live, and call the school for a phone interview. Every school has an admissions department that can answer your questions and send you an information packet. You should ask about licensing requirements in your state, the curriculum, how much the program costs, full and part-time programs, and financial aid.  You should be able to get a good idea of how professional a school is by how they deal with you on the phone.

All esthetician schools teach you what you need to know to pass the state licensing exam—that is their primary goal. Other questions to ask: Do they have any specialized equipment for you to learn on? How long have their teachers worked there, and what is their background? What is their continuing education program? Are there benefits for graduates, like discounts on products or continuing education classes?

It’s also imperative to make an on-site visit to the esthetician school. Do you like the atmosphere? Do the teachers impress you? Talk to students while you’re there and ask what they think (away from teachers or admissions counselors). Some schools have an open house or free workshops so you can get a feel for skincare in general and the atmosphere at the school.

Ask for the names and phone numbers of graduates you can call. They will give you their candid opinion of the school, the job market, starting salaries and what it’s like in your market once you graduate.