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A hot debate amongst skin care enthusiasts is whether one should be seeing a dermatologist for their skin care concerns or if they should be visiting an esthetician. The confusion on who to visit is understandable. After all, at the end of the day, dermatologists are doctors and estheticians are not. So naturally it makes sense to want to visit the doctor for your concerns because by extension of having the title of “doctor” they are viewed in the highest regard as being the preeminent expert pertaining to all things skin. Estheticians, on the other hand, are generally thought of as fluff skin care providers who are mainly trying to sell products or a relaxation experience. These examples of both dermatologists and estheticians can be true for some but isn’t necessarily the case for the overwhelming majority in both fields. This post will hopefully help you all to better understand which professional does what so that you can make proper, informed decisions when choosing a skin care professional.

What a Dermatologist Does

A dermatologist is a licensed medical practitioner who can legally diagnose and treat skin disorders. Dermatologists are required to complete medical school training and be board certified from the American Board of Dermatology or American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology (obviously, these requirements apply to dermatologists in America, board certifications may differ by country). More specifically, dermatologists treat health of the skin and diseases of the hair, nails, and mucous membranes. There are well over 3,000 skin conditions/disorders and dermatologists can look for, test, and treat all of them. The most common skin conditions they see, however, are: dermatitis, eczema, acne, vitiligo, psoriasis, rosacea, fungal infections, moles/warts, shingles/herpes, and skin cancers.

Dermatologists are the only skin professionals who can prescribe medicines for skin conditions and skin disorders. Full stop. The most common prescriptions are for retinoids and hydroquinone at much higher percentages than what is made available over the counter, oral antibiotics and topical antibiotics. For the most part, products that you purchase from your esthetician are likely not the same as what may be prescribed by a dermatologist. Dermatologists are also the only skin professionals that can remove moles/warts and perform chemical peels and other treatments that penetrate into the dermis (like laser resurfacing, microneedling, etc.).

When Would You See a Dermatologist?

You will want to visit a dermatologist for any skin rashes, fungal infections, unusual moles, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, or anything you may think is contagious. Another big reason to visit a dermatologist is if you have a chronic and persistent breakout pattern that lasts longer than three months. This is usually a sign of something that may require a prescription medicine to help treat.

However, there is one tiny caveat about visiting dermatologists. Derms treat your skin concerns by asking you a series of questions, maybe performing a biopsy (if necessary), and a quick 5-10 minute evaluation of the area of the skin you have concerns about that may or may not involve touching your skin. In all, your appointment with a dermatologist may be just shy of 30 minutes. Outside of a biopsy (which sometimes can be performed same day), there usually isn’t a specific skin care treatment you’ll get during that appointment or any subsequent ones. But you will likely leave with a prescription of some sort to help treat the skin condition or disorder you went in for.

In my opinion, dermatologists are too quick to prescribe antibiotics that aren’t effective for acne clients and also rely a little too heavily on hydroquinone, a skin bleaching agent, for hyperpigmentation issues. Some derms lean a little too “one size fits all” for my liking. But that’s just me and I am not a doctor. I’m just an esthetician.

What an Esthetician Does

An esthetician is a licensed skin care professional trained in beautifying the epidermis of the skin only via facial treatments, makeup, eyelash extensions, and hair removal. Estheticians cannot legally diagnose skin conditions or disorders nor can they prescribe any medicines. Estheticians are licensed by their state’s governing board and every state has different requirements for licensure. Anyone working as an esthetician must be licensed in every state they wish to practice in.

During my training to become an esthetician, I had to be able to identify and know the differences between the 500 most common skin disorders and skin conditions. In California, I can only effectively treat about 20 of them. But it was important for me to know and distinguish between all 500 so that I can know when to make recommendations for my clients to see a dermatologist and also to know what products can and can’t be used on a client based on their skin conditions. Similar to dermatologists, estheticians can specialize in certain things. There are some estheticians who only do lashes, some who only wax, etc. I’m a “full-stack” esthetician. That means that I’m fully trained in all aspects of esthetics, however, my specialties are in corrective skin care (Acne, Hyperpigmentation) and full body hair removal via traditional waxing and sugar.

When Would You See an Esthetician?

You’ll want to visit an esthetician when you want: any form of hair removal, eyelash extensions, to find out what’s really going on with your skin. Estheticians spend more time with your skin during an appointment and provide in-depth analysis to determine what treatments and products will work best for your skin (but still no prescriptions). We can also give you a custom regimen and make suggestions on how to adjust your home care routine to achieve the skin you desire. Your visit to an esthetician will be at least an hour (if you’re going for a facial or skin care concern) but can be longer depending on the treatment. In short, estheticians are your go-to for all things superficial beauty because we only treat the epidermis.

Many people only visit an esthetician when they visibly see blemishes on their skin but you don’t have to have problematic skin in order to be seen. People visit estheticians to relax too. I don’t think I can say the same for dermatologist’s offices.

If you are in the Bay Area and have any acne or hyperpigmentation concerns, book an appointment with me. I’d love to help you achieve your skin care goals!