An esthetician stands in her office

Dermatologists vs. Estheticians: What's the Difference?

While dermatologists and estheticians both deal with the skin, the two are wildly different. Not only is the nature of their interaction with the skin distinct, they also differ in education, pay, and work environment.

What is a dermatologist?

The word “dermatology” gets its meaning from the root word derma, meaning “skin” in Greek. Dermatologists generally work in a clinical setting, either on their own or with a handful of others. They work with the skin (epidermis) and its illnesses and ailments, over the entire body. This might entail treating serious cases of psoriasis, eczema, or acne; diagnosing cancerous spots or benign moles through biopsies; curing funguses and other infections; surgically removing cysts or nodules; perform cosmetic procedures; or a whole host of other things.

The nails, hair, and mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and eyelids also fall under the care of dermatologists. They must also communicate with patients to help them learn how to keep their skin healthy, discuss options for treating chronic issues, and explain what it means for them to have various problems.

What is an esthetician?

“Aesthetic” is also derived from the Greek language, and essentially means beautiful or pleasing. Estheticians (or aestheticians) also work with the skin, but their job is to make it look pretty. This job is sometimes more along the lines of cosmetology (applying makeup), but it can be more intensive and long-lasting. Estheticians may perform facials, peels, or facial scrubs; laser treatment or microdermabrasions (removing dead skin cells to improve the look of skin); or unwanted hair removal.

Medical aestheticians, on the other hand, work alongside dermatologists and plastic surgeons to improve the appearance of patients who have scarring or disfigurations. A large part of an esthetician’s job entails helping to reduce anxiety about appearance and helping people learn how to improve their own appearance at home.

What’s the difference?

Perhaps the largest differences between these two professions are schooling, and therefore paygrade. After getting an undergraduate degree, dermatologists go on to several years of medical school, followed by a year-long internship and at least a three-year residency program. All of these are extremely competitive and demanding programs, but if you make it through all of that and get board-certified, the payoff is excellent. Starting out, most dermatologists make close to $200,000 a year, and as their experience grows, so does their salary. The median pay for dermatologists in 2015 made it over the $300,000 mark.

Becoming an esthetician can take less than a year through trade and vocational schools; following the proper courses and obtaining clinical experience, estheticians-to-be must also take a certification exam. Depending on location, an esthetician usually makes around $35,000 a year, but this can also depend on the chosen setting.

While dermatologists usually work in a clinical setting, estheticians have more varied options. Salons and spas require licensed estheticians, and medical estheticians may work in a clinical or hospital setting, assisting cancer patients, burn victims, or those who just want to be more beautiful.

So how are dermatologists and estheticians similar?

Both professions are committed to helping patients achieve healthy, radiant skin. Some dermatologists perform treatments like botox that are strictly cosmetic, which is very similar to what many estheticians do. Conversely, some estheticians are responsible for helping clients get back to looking like themselves - sometimes even better than themselves - which can go a long way toward psychological health, too.

Last Updated: June 26, 2015