The Difference Between a Dermatologist and an Esthetician

Image: El Segundo Dermatology

When all of those science-backed serums, anti-acne moisturizers, and skin plumping masks just aren’t working, who should you turn to for your skincare woes? It’s important to know whether you need to see a dermatologist or an esthetician, so we asked two top pros to help us decipher the differences.

“Both dermatologists and estheticians work on maintaining and enhancing skin health & beauty,” says board certified dermatologist Dr. Jill Javahery of El Segundo Dermatology and Comprehensive Dermatology of Long Beach. However, only a dermatologist can diagnose and treat skin diseases, she says.

Venice, Calif.-based esthetician Kát Rudu, whose celebrity clients include Kate Beckinsale and Eva Mendes, says a licensed esthetician “gives you valuable holistic insight on your diet, skin type, and lifestyle. We often have options to offer and consider that can be beneficial and are alternative drug-free solutions.”

Read on below to find out the top differences between dermatologists and estheticians, including how each gets certified, the most common skincare concerns that they treat, and more.

Certification

“To become a board-certified dermatologist, you must first get a college bachelor’s degree, and then complete medical school, becoming a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO),” says Dr. Javahery. “Afterwards, you must complete an internship with one year of required medical training. Then you go to an accredited dermatology residency program, which is at least three years. Finally, you have to get a license to practice medicine, pass the required exams, and meet other requirements to become board-certified.”

Rudu says estheticians must also complete formal training (which takes one to two years) through an accredited college, cosmetology school, or technical school, “[but] the certification and licensing requirements vary from state to state.”

Estheticians-in-training learn about various aspects of skin health and treatment safety, including “skin anatomy and structure, disorders, proper nutrition, and skin vitality,” says the celebrity-beloved skincare expert. “Candidates will also learn vital massage techniques, skin analysis techniques, and product application.”

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After getting licensed, many estheticians like Rudu “choose to continue their education by taking advanced care specialized courses in chemical peels, skin products, skin disorders, hair removal, skin care and regimens, aromatherapy, and lymphatic drainage,” she says.

Just like dermatologists read medical journals and other health-related news to stay up-to-date, it’s important that estheticians keep up with industry trends and advancements in skin studies “[in order] to effectively apply the latest knowledge, techniques, and technology to your patients,” says Rudu.

Though estheticians aren’t required to complete internships like dermatologists, “working on patients and developing understanding of interactions, skin reactions, and identifying conditions and skin solutions or treatment protocols also requires many hours of hands-on patient care and experience,” says Rudu.

Watch the video below to learn more about esthetician Vanessa Hernandez’s pregnancy-friendly facial:

When to See A Dermatologist

Dermatologists can treat basic and serious skin concerns, including skin cancers, allergies, fine lines and wrinkles from aging, stretch marks, severe acne, hair removal, and more. In California, only dermatologists are approved by the medical board to perform invasive and non-invasive surgeries and treatments, including medical procedures like performing biopsies and removing cancerous cysts and moles, and cosmetic procedures like Botox injections, fillers, and laser scar or hair removal.

This should go without saying, but we can all use a reminder: only trust a board certified dermatologist for the above surgeries. For instance, according to the American Dental Association, dentists are indeed considered physicians — which means they’re technically allowed to administer Botox or dermal fillers. But just because they can doesn’t mean they should! Board certified dermatologists have extensive training in facial anatomy required to use injections and fillers, for example.

Check out the episode of The SASS below to watch board certified dermatologist Sonia Batra, MD treat a patient with a VI chemical peel:

When to See An Esthetician

Rudu says many people turn to her when they’re not seeing results from dermatologist-prescribed medications. “Often they wanted or asked for alternatives to chemical or drug solutions, and [there are some] doctors who focus on diagnosing conditions and administering treatments as opposed to prevention, daily care, and maintenance,” she says.

Estheticians treat common issues like light acne, congestion, sunspots, sun damage, and hyper-pigmentation, says Rudu. The esthetician developed her own line of cruelty-free botanical products that specifically target those concerns without harsh chemicals.

“I work to bring clarity and vitality to my clients’ skin through toning, hydration, plumping, clarifying, and reducing pores size. My clients leave with glowing, dewy skin.  And of course the entire category of aging skin or combating visual signs of aging and promoting age delay is always a topic we address.”

While dermatologists are key for treating critical skin conditions, Rudu adds that drugs aren’t the only solution for every non-serious ailment. “Seventy-five percent of the time a prescribed drug interacts and causes a disruption — by design in a process internally — sometimes causing a delay in allowing something to come out of your system and truly heal,” she says. “If there is an imbalance in your body, it is going to come out and show through your skin sooner or later.”

However, Rudu will always refer a client to a trusted dermatologist if they require medical attention or if she needs a second opinion about a skin condition.

Want to know what other skin issues that dermatologists treat? Watch the episode of The SASS to see how to get rid of spider veins: