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How to become an esthetician and get your business license

Beauty may be more than skin deep, but that doesn’t mean skincare isn’t vital. If you love helping people love the skin they’re in, it might be time to consider a career in esthetics.

Esthetics is a part of the cosmetology or beauty industry, focusing on skincare and wellness. Estheticians work to rejuvenate and improve the skin, usually specializing in procedures like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and exfoliation. They also help tackle common skin problems like hyperpigmentation and cystic acne.
Unlike dermatologists, estheticians don’t diagnose or treat skin diseases. Still, some medical estheticians, known as master estheticians, can become qualified to perform medical procedures like laser hair removal and Botox injections.

Partly because of the boom in the beauty industry thanks to YouTube and Instagram beauty gurus, demand for skincare services has made esthetics a rapidly growing career path, with an expected 17% growth rate between 2019-2029 (much higher than the general job growth rate of 5%). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for skin care professionals in May 2020 was about $18 an hour.

There’s never been a better time to start a career in esthetics, but it can be pretty confusing to figure out where to start or what you’ll need to operate in your region. Below, we’ve given a quick and (not so) dirty overview of how you can get started on your esthetics business!

What is an esthetician license?

Since, in a sense, you’ll be putting a lot of chemicals on a lot of faces, esthetician licensure makes sure that you know what chemicals to put on which faces. Licensing requirements vary state by state (except for Connecticut, which does not have esthetician requirements). Still, in general, there are a few prerequisites you’ll need before you can become licensed.

First, you’ll need to complete an esthetician program. While most states require some form of classroom training, some states will accept a certain amount of time as an apprentice instead. Most beauty schools require you to be at least 16 years old with either a high school diploma or an equivalent degree, like a GED.

After you’ve finished your esthetics program, you’re ready to take your licensing exam. For most states, this will be the National-Institute Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC, if you don’t want your mouth that full) examination. Some states don’t require you to take the NIC but require you to take an equivalent exam.
Once you’ve satisfactorily passed your licensing exam, you can register as an esthetician with your region’s Board of Cosmetology. Fees will vary depending on your location.

It’s important to note that an esthetician license is not a cosmetology license, even though you may be studying at a cosmetology school. Cosmetologists work with hair, skin, and nails and learn the basics of all three of these fields, while esthetician licensure is only applicable to skincare. So if you get an esthetics license, you won’t be able to work as a nail artist or hairstylist.

Is an esthetician license the same as a business license?

No, but you may need to get both licenses, depending on where your career takes you.

An esthetician’s license is a test of professional competency, much like a college degree. (You may already have a college degree in esthetics, since many community colleges offer cosmetology and esthetics classes.) It’s a sign that you’ve learned how to safely and professionally perform this specific service.

On the other hand, a business license is a more general government document, more akin to a driver’s license.

Your business license ensures your clients that you are legally allowed to operate within your area and that they can expect certain protections and standards within your establishment, just like your driver’s license certifies that you can operate a car and you will adhere to the laws of the road.

Not all estheticians will need to get a business license. If you’re an employee at a makeup store giving facial treatments, you won’t need a business license. However, if you decide to open up a store selling your own specialty skincare products, you’ll need to get a business license.

How much does an esthetician license or beautician license cost?

To get an idea of how much you may be spending to become an esthetician, you’ll want to look at three main factors: your training program, your licensing exam, and the price of the license itself.

Esthetician training can vary in price, depending on what kind of institution you’re attending. Community colleges tend to cost between $4,000 to 6,000 for a six-month course, while private beauty schools can cost between $6,000 and $12,000 for the same number of hours of training.

For master estheticians, you’ll be looking at double the price for your coursework, as master estheticians have more medically centered coursework to qualify them for work in medical offices. This doesn’t include the cost of books and other materials, which can cost in the hundreds.

Don’t let the potential price tags scare you, though. Many esthetician schools will offer some type of financial aid.The price for exams and licensing varies from state to state. The NIC offers a guide to help you get in contact with your state board for specifics on testing prices. As for the actual licensing fee, most states have their prices between $25 to $100.

How long does it take to become an esthetician?

How much coursework you’ll need to complete to qualify for an esthetician license varies wildly across states. Connecticut has no licensing requirements, so you could theoretically get a job in the field in a matter of days or weeks. On the other side of the coin, Georgia requires a minimum of 1,000 hours of training!

Generally, however many hours your state requires, most esthetics programs can be completed within 6 months and two years. Some states require a further number of hours in an apprenticeship, while other states will accept at least a year of full-time apprenticeship instead of classroom hours. You’ll need to triple-check with your state cosmetology board on the exact requirements.

If you’re taking the NIC exam, the length of time depends on whether you’re taking a written exam, practical exam, or both. The written exam has a maximum time of 90 minutes to complete. The practical exam, where you'll demonstrate skill in common services like body wraps, skin treatments, and makeup application, may run longer or shorter than the written exam, depending on your testing location.

6 steps to become a licensed esthetician and start your own business

1) Enroll in an esthetician school or apprenticeship

Since requirements for esthetics licensure varies so much between states, you’ll want to make sure that the program you’re choosing has the proper accreditation. Beauty Schools Directory is a great resource to help you find the right program for your needs.

2) Find your specialty

The skincare industry is huge and has plenty of niches to specialize in as you go through your esthetician training. Some estheticians decide to specialize in the worlds of fashion or entertainment, providing top-of-the-line skincare advice for those in the public eye. In contrast, others may want to work as master estheticians besides dermatologists.

If you decide to go down the road of a master esthetician, it’s good to figure that out early, as it requires more advanced training since you’ll be face-to-face with more medical procedures than a general esthetician.

3) Take your licensing exam

Like finding an esthetician program, taking your licensing exam will be a wildly different experience depending on what state you’re in, so check with your state Board of Cosmetology before you sign up for any tests.

One of the biggest things you’ll want to verify is if you’ll be required to take a written exam, a practical exam, or both. You’ll also want to make sure what exam you’re supposed to be taking. If you sign up for an NIC exam in a state with its specific exam, you may be out quite a bit of cash and be no closer to getting your license.

4) Get a small business license

While some estheticians prefer to work in offices or a larger spa setting, many prefer the flexibility of working as an independent contractor. Estheticians working on their own can enjoy the freedom to set their own rates and hours and choose the services that they love performing the most.

If the freelance life is calling you, you’ll want to make sure you have a valid small business license. Depending on your state, you may need to show proof of your esthetician license when you apply for your business license, so make sure you have that in hand before you apply. You’ll also need to decide your business entity (if you’re an LLC, a sole proprietorship, etc.) and set up an EIN (Employer Identification Number; pretty much your business’s Social Security Number).

Check out our state-by-state guide to getting business insurance for more info on how to get your business certified.

5) Get small business insurance

This is probably the most important step for any small business, but especially for an esthetician. With all the hands-on work you’ll be doing with clients, all the chemicals you’ll have around you for daily operations, and the amount of traveling you may be doing between clients, you’re going to want to make sure you’re covered for any occurrence.

Huckleberry offers a range of esthetician and beautician insurance policies perfect for protecting your business from any errant threading procedures or faulty chemical peels for a fraction of the price of most legacy insurance companies.

6) Work on continuing education

As the beauty industry continues to evolve and new products and techniques become available, you need to stay on top of the latest trends and findings. That’s why Continuing Education (or CE) is a requirement in most states.

Esthetician licenses expire after 1-5 years, and many states require practitioners to complete a CE program as part of their relicensing process. Don’t worry; you won’t be going through your entire education process again; most states only require a few courses at significantly lower prices than initial coursework.

CE is especially important for master estheticians, as they will be dealing with more medical procedures. Still, any esthetician needs to keep on top of their CE to ensure they’re not continuing outdated practices that could dissatisfy or even harm their clients.

Huckleberry is here to help!

Starting a new esthetician career is an incredibly exciting and terrifying time in your professional career. At Huckleberry, we’re here to help you keep your business safe and operational with quality small business insurance at the best price possible.

Sign up for a free business insurance quote today and get the coverage you need at a fraction of the cost in a fraction of the time. Stress-free business insurance is sure to keep your skin clear!

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