Nia El-Amin

SKIN CARE GUIDE: Esthetician or Dermatologist: Who Should You See?

Nia El-Amin
SKIN CARE GUIDE: Esthetician or Dermatologist: Who Should You See?

Estheticians or dermatologists? Who should we turn to? Both professionals are knowledgeable, but their approach to your skin health is very different.

Both estheticians and dermatologists treat the most common skin concerns- hyperpigmentation, sun damage, rosacea, acne, clogged pores, and hormonal breakouts. Yet, there are a few important differences you should know before seeing one or both.

I’m an esthetician, so for this post I’m going to pull from my education and hands-on-experience. My goal for this article is to provide an honest picture of what I know based on REAL experiences.


A dermatologist is a medical doctor and an esthetician is not. A dermatologist is trained to treat skin diseases and conditions through oral and topical prescriptions, while an esthetician relies heavily on thorough consultations and skin analysis to offer solutions through skincare products and lifestyle/nutritional changes.

Let’s pause here for a moment. I want you to remember that nutritional counseling is “outside the scope” of an esthetician’s license, but with years of experience and education we begin to see patterns and links between nutrition/food and skin issues that give us the ability to offer suggestions to maximize your daily efforts at maintaining optimal skin health.

  • Education/Licensing: A dermatologist has completed pre-medical studies in undergrad, medical school, internship/residency and has passed examinations for board certification and licensure. A licensed esthetician has completed anywhere from 3-12 months of school (depending on the state) and passed a state board exam for licensure/certification.

  • Products/Treatments: Doctors can write prescriptions, estheticians can’t. Doctors can perform dermal fillers/injectables/Botox while estheticians don’t under their license. Both can administer chemical peels although dermatologists have the option of using peels that are much stronger and penetrate the skin more deeply.


The Esthetician's POV

Because estheticians rely heavily on consultations and analysis, an esthetician will spend more time with you than a dermatologist. A skin treatment with an esthetician will likely get you 60-90 minutes while the time spent with a dermatologist is generally between 10-20 minutes. Some skin issues/concerns greatly benefit from having time to share the full history of your skin so that your esthetician can play detective to try to put the pieces together. This approach often offers a more personalized solution.

An esthetician’s prescriptions are skincare products, so we are very familiar with ingredients, which products work best and when and what an effective skincare routine should look like. An esthetician will also be more knowledgeable about specific products and your skincare routine.

The Dermatologist POV

Dermatologists are trained in treating diseases of the skin with prescriptions. There are times when prescription drugs are required to treat certain skin conditions-severe acne, allergic reactions, rashes, severe/chronic rosacea-but should be viewed as a last option after other options have been investigated. Prescription drugs can sometimes mask the symptoms without getting to the root of the issue.

It’s important to communicate with your dermatologist about long term effects of any medications and ensure that you are using them properly and that you are seeing improvement within a reasonable time frame.


During a recent consultaiton, I worked with a patient who had dry and inflamed skin. Although she received a prescription from a dermatologist, she decided to see an esthetician before using the topical cream. Through a lengthy consultation, we discovered that she was using a high-foaming cleanser twice a day with a cleansing brush and not moisturizing properly.

As a result, I determined that she was damaging her skin’s protective barrier by over-exfoliating with a stripping cleanser and a bacteria-filled cleansing brush causing a dry, inflamed response. We also discussed her routine and I discovered that the cleansing brush was not being cleansed and stored properly between uses.

I created a treatment plan switching her to a gentle routine to allow her skin to calm and repair itself. By our next visit 4 weeks later, her skin significantly calmed and was less dry and irritated. While the prescription she received from the dermatologist probably would have helped, switching her products was an easy solution and something that would have had to happen for long-term skin health.


So, when should you see an esthetician?
You should book an appointment with an esthetician to address acne, mild breakouts, sensitivity, dry patches, and aging concerns. You can also schedule routine visits - monthly or quarterly to maintain appearance. There are local spa and and med-spas that offer monthly memberships that make it budget friendly to enjoy a routine facial or other facial treatment.

Extractions (very important for acne treatment), exfoliating treatments, microdermabrasion, dermaplaning, superficial skin peels, light, laser, and ultrasound procedures are just a few of the services estheticians perform.

When should you see a dermatologist?
EVERYONE should see a dermatologist at least once a year for a full body scan. Other reasons to see a derm; severe acne, mole/skin growth checks, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, hives, and hair loss. You can also see a dermatologist for more intensive cosmetic treatments; fillers, injectables, and deeper laser and peel treatments.

Final Thought

How often do you see a skincare professional? If you don’t see a professional on a regular basis, why not? Everyone has their own reasons for seeing an esthetician and/or a dermatologist, we would love to hear your thoughts and more about your routine.