The State of Esthetics

A Look At Where the Skin Care Industry Stands

By Diane M. Marty

Originally published in Skin Deep, October/November 2004.

When Carole Walderman opened the first licensed school for estheticians in the United States, many people thought she was training anesthetists. True that in the beginning, the profession was quite sedate: Both pupils and clients were in short supply, translated European literature served as the initial curriculum, and graduates began their businesses with three basic products — cleanser, toner, and moisturizer.

How things have changed.

Twenty-five years later, prospective students in Pikesville, Md., wait one year to enter Walderman’s program at Von Lee International School of Aesthetics. Clients clamor for the latest skin treatments and technologies as quickly as they’re introduced to the
marketplace. And textbooks resemble required reading in medical school, while a large suitcase might not hold even the bare essentials for the typical practitioner.

Horizons have widened. And today’s skin care professionals are found in places as diverse as health food stores, bridal boutiques, and plastic surgeons’ offices.

Education Is Key

Experts have three words for estheticians who want to maintain peak form in the emerging esthetics environment — education, education, education. Embrace knowledge in any form, they advise professionals. There are no continuing education requirements for estheticians in most states, so proactive professionals need to configure their own careers. “Maintaining a high level of proficiency is the responsibility of the practitioners,” says Janet D’Angelo, a leading industry consultant and president of J. Angel Communications in Hingham, Mass.

To keep pace with the industry, experts endorse three
educational resources:

• Trade shows, as well as any classes or demonstrations offered by vendors, are stimulating ways to make contacts and keep current.

• Trade publications help guarantee professionals up-to-date intelligence on the latest trends, technologies, and treatments in the business.

• Recent research and the latest manuals are musts for serious clinicians to review.

“Estheticians who don’t remain in step will fall to the back of the ranks quickly,” says Rebecca James Gadberry, president of YG Laboratories and an instructor of cosmetic science at University of California, Los Angeles. “The industry and the information change daily. If an esthetician neglects to keep up with the trends, topics, and technology for just six months, they might as well find a new career.”

A Whole-Health or Medical Approach?

Along with the challenge of excavating and integrating practical information, estheticians have the advantage of adapting their knowledge base to a particular career course. “The two strongest trends within the industry oppose each other,” Gadberry says. One group advocates the balancing of body, mind, and spirit, while the other sector favors a medical approach.

“In the next years, the relationship between health and beauty will be accentuated,” D’Angelo says. Estheticians choosing to approach skin care from a wellness perspective can expect a sizeable portion of the industry’s research, treatments, and products to move in a whole-health direction. Professionals attracted to this type of practice will find knowledge of dietetics, botany, and other symbiotic subjects beneficial.

“But the industry is growing fastest in the medical direction,” Walderman says. “When estheticians work side-by-side with physicians, their efforts will have an antiaging emphasis.” Skin specialists opting for careers in these settings will need more grounding in anatomy, physiology, and biology. In fact, D’Angelo predicts that more estheticians will have dual licenses or training in the upcoming years. Nursing, massage therapy, and nutritional degrees will all become increasingly valuable in the skin care world.

Legislation and Regulations

Even the business of beauty has a political component. Gadberry advises estheticians to remain informed about shifting philosophies regarding their state boards. For instance, many states are proposing disbanding state boards and redirecting licensing fees to their general funds. “As much as we all hate regulations, they hold all practitioners to certain safety standards,” Gadberry says. “And rules foster trust between professionals and their clients.”
Savvy estheticians will read any information that comes from their state boards, Gadberry says. State candidates have websites and staff to answer questions about their positions on this topic. Supporting politicians who support the industry ensures continuing credibility.

Another area that’s potentially politically charged involves the tools of the esthetics trade. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve taken hope in a bottle and put results in that bottle,” Gadberry says. That success may come with a high price.

Gadberry cites growing apprehension among regulatory agencies about the promotion of the drug-like virtues of many skin care products. She foresees a time when the government will place those products labeled cosmeceuticals — including formulas claiming antiaging and anti-wrinkling properties — within their domain.

“If we continue to use these terms, I’m afraid we may be waving a red flag in front of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” Gadberry says. She points out that mandatory and prolonged testing would accompany such regulation. The ultimate outcome would involve escalating costs and prolonged delays.

“Being placed under FDA authority would tremendously slow down or eliminate the introduction of new ingredients to the marketplace,” Gadberry says. To avoid this scenario, she urges people within the skin care community to voice their concerns about such claims to vendors and avoid making similar statements in their own practices.


te or National Licensing?

Licensing requirements remain under the control of each state, so there are no cohesive standards. A few cosmetology boards demand 220 hours of training, others ask for a minimum of 1,500 hours. Professionals can operate laser equipment in a number of jurisdictions, while many states do not recognize an esthetician’s license in a medical office. Some states insist prospective practitioners serve as apprentices. “In general, estheticians can expect licensing requirements to become more intensive as the industry moves into medical applications,” D’Angelo says.

Utah’s innovative, tiered approach to licensing presents professionals — those who are willing to receive twice the training of a basic program — with the designation of Master Estheticians. Industry experts anticipate other states will eventually adopt this multilevel approach to certification.

While there are no national standards right now, many industry professionals are proponents for countrywide certifications. An American Board of Cosmetology would be able to award clinicians degrees similar to the prestigious and portable CIDESCO (Comité International Desthétique et de Cosmétologie) certification. This European degree promotes uniform education, experience, and competence among professionals throughout that continent. For more information, visit

The Future Is Bright

Regardless of the rules and regulations that are applied to the industry, estheticians will find a bright future awaits them.
D’Angelo even envisions a time when community-based wellness centers become the norm. In these holistic surroundings, health and wellness professionals — like dietitians, counselors, and yoga practitioners, as well as estheticians — will use their expertise to create healthy lifestyle protocols for the residents.

While the future will definitely bring changes, the possibilities of the profession will continue to outnumber any obstacles.

There is no better recommendation for the industry than the one offered by the founder and president of the first licensed esthetician school in the United States: “Clients come in smiling and leave smiling,” Walderman says. “It’s a wonderful profession. And there’s not a more positive way to live life.”