Dermatologist or an Esthetician? What’s the difference?

December 8, 2019

Dermatologist vs Esthetician? It’s one of the most common questions in the skincare industry. While there is some overlap between the two professions, there there are differences as well. Let’s walk through them below!



An American Board of Dermatology Certified Dermatologist is a specialist able to diagnose and treat skin disease. He or she will have completed a four-year undergraduate degree, a four-year medical school degree, a one-year internship in a medical subject of their choice, plus a three-year dermatology residency program.  Beside their regular medical practice, many dermatologists also offer cosmetic procedures such as dermal filler, lasers, and Botox injections and often have estheticians on staff in their offices to support the recommendations they make to their patients.

When you should visit a Dermatologist vs an Esthetician:

If you have a questionable rash, mole or skin tag (skin cancer check), new (or old), deep acne scars,  or severe cystic acne, a dermatologist is the right choice. Dermatologists can also prescribe medication.

If you are interested in aesthetic medical treatments such as lasers, dermal fillers, Coolsculpting or Botox, a medical spa’s Medical Doctor (MD), PA, NP, or RNs would also be a good choice to see.


An Esthetician (also spelled Aesthetician) is a person licensed to provide skincare treatments, also known as a skin care specialists.  Training varies from state to state, but aestheticians typically take a 6-12 month course that focuses on skin care, facials, and noninvasive procedures. In the US, the majority of states require a “State Board” exam to assure safety and knowledge to gain a license.

Many estheticians will continue their education with specific brand or facial treatment device training classes or other advanced facial technique courses.

When you should visit an Esthetician vs a Dermatologist:

If you are healthy and have not had any skin complications or skin issues in the past, seeing an esthetician in a medical spa or a dermatologist’s office is most likely the correct choice. You’ll get the luxury of a “spa “along with medical expertise – with supervision from an MD + team of nurses that specialize in aesthetic medicine.

At a medical spa, the estheticians are more likely to have a better idea of when a dermatologist is needed for skin conditions that are out of the scope of their license.

With so many endless treatments, products and endless advertisements promising perfect skin, how do we choose?

  • Learn your skin type: Your esthetician can help you in figuring out what your skin type is.  Learning if your skin is oily, dry, combination or normal can determine how different products will work for your skin.
  • Create your daily skincare regimen: The path to success with your skincare products is repetition. It is best to build a daily routine, especially with active treatment products – ones containing acids, stem cells or peptides. With many facial products, they may take six to twelve weeks before seeing significant changes. Your esthetician will help build out a custom routine suited to your skin needs. Be upfront with how many products you are looking to use – if you want a super simple routine, let your provider know so they do not overwhelm you with too many options.
  • Avoid buying products without researching them first:  If there are unfamiliar ingredients, look them up to find out what they are and why they would be in that product. If you find minimal or no supporting information on the specific ingredient in question, that’s a good sign it is just a new “trendy” product and one to skip. Some essential oils—citrus and bergamot oils in particular—can have phototoxic properties – avoiding daytime products that contain these essential oils can be helpful. The International Fragrance Association recommends using citrus oils in concentrations of no more than 4% in products meant for use on your face. Vitamin C serums are good for AM applications and typically do not contain citrus extracts. Bergamot oil can also be “bergapten free” making it safe for skincare use. If you crave the citrus smell in your routine, keep it for your night-time regimen.
  • Look for daytime products that contain a sunscreen: Protecting your skin from UV rays is very important in keeping it healthy and spot-free. If your moisturizer does not have SPF in it, there are many great brands that offer lightweight SPF that can be applied over your moisturizer. I love SkinMedica’s Essential Defense Clear or SkinBetterScience SunBetter SPF 68 Compact – it’s water-resistant for 80min, lightweight and sheer and could use a whole article just about how incredible it is.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask a professional: If any doubts remain regarding your skincare products or they’re just not giving any results, a consultation with your esthetician or dermatologist will be helpful – they can go over each product with you in-depth and weed out what is and isn’t helpful. *Tip – take a photo of your products rather than bringing them all with you.
  •  Be cautious of  the “miracle” or “does it all”  skin products:  A skincare product that seems “too good to be true” is probably  “too good to be true”.  Reputable product lines typically are the best bet and likely to be most effective, tested, tried by many and safer than something made in a kitchen somewhere. Product lines that have validated claims or clinical studies that show they are truly working the way they promise is usually a good choice. VMV Hypoallergenics is a great option for someone just starting to take care of their skin. The basics they offer from the 3 SuperSkin lines are quite effective. All products made by the brand are clinically tested in-vivo and in-vitro  (never on animals, only on humans) and has a rating system that validates how “hypoallergenic” each product is. From their site: The “VH-Number” rating system “grades” a product’s safety based on how many allergens it does not contain, as referenced by the list of allergens compiled by objective, independent institutions the North American Contact Dermatitis Group + European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies.

Still have questions?

Still have Esthetician vs Dermatologist questions? Give us a call and we’ll be happy to answer them for you.

Holly Byerly, LE, Coolsculpting Specialist & Practice Manager

Authored by: Holly Byerly, LE