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Should You See A Dermatologist Or An Esthetician? Here's How To Know

Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor
By Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
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March 17, 2022

It's perhaps one of the most elusive questions when it comes to skin care concerns: Should I see a dermatologist or an esthetician? If you find yourself bouncing between these options, you're not alone. 

Whether your goal is to treat acne, encourage healthy aging, or combat a sudden bout of irritation, the problems you can run into with your skin sometimes call for an expert opinion. So which expert should you consult? Well, we asked them both so you never have to wonder again and get the help you need that much faster. Who doesn't love efficiency? 

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When you should consult an esthetician.

Estheticians are an amazing resource to teach you about how your skin works, how to take care of it, and help you prevent future problems such as acne, irritation, dryness, etc. Estheticians have countless services available, including facials of all sorts, and appointments are usually an hour or more—so the professional can really spend time with your skin and address your skin care concerns and/or goals.

Celebrity esthetician, founder, and CEO of Artisan of Skin Beverly Hills Sharlena Hassani compares it to exercise: "An esthetician is a personal trainer that you see on a scheduled basis to both whip your skin into shape and then maintain your results," she tells mbg, "whereas a dermatologist is a doctor you see to handle medical conditions. Both of us are skin care specialists, just in different ways." 

However, these two specialists don't need to be mutually exclusive. Especially when dealing with serious skin conditions, assistance from both a dermatologist and an esthetician can be extremely helpful. It's just like how you might treat your overall health: You'll have annual checkups with a physician to address any concerns, but you might enlist the help of a dietitian and/or personal trainer to meet specific nutrition and fitness goals. 

And again, estheticians typically spend time with your skin in a very meaningful way. In fact, when you have your first appointment, they'll likely give you an initial skin analysis: They'll ask you questions about your skin's history, products you've used, and any concerns you have. This way, they can create a master plan for how to treat your skin. 

From there, you can decide if you want to continue scheduling regular appointments or if you want to take their product recommendations and try at-home treatment instead (given that monthly or seasonal facials can get pretty pricey). But remember, not everything is safe to DIY. There are many beauty treatments that shouldn't be done at home (ahem, extractions) and truly are best left to the experts.

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Here are a few of the many treatments estheticians offer: 

  • LED light therapy
  • Microdermabrasion 
  • Chemical peels 
  • Extractions 
  • Body wraps and masks 

Your treatment plan will likely change over time, evolving with the health of your skin. If you want to learn more about what kinds of facials are out there and which ones may be beneficial for your skin concern, check out our full guide to facials here. 

So, if you're looking for general upkeep of the skin, estheticians are a perfect resource. But if you're having specific skin issues, you might want to head to the dermatologist to get them checked out. "You'll need to be actively presenting symptoms for [dermatologists] to diagnose you," said Katie Sobelman, organic esthetician and skin care educator.

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When you should consult a dermatologist.

Dermatologists are skin masters as well, but in a different way—these pros can work with your skin on a deeper level than estheticians. Furthermore, dermatologists can do a few things that estheticians cannot, including diagnosing skin conditions, prescribing oral medication and prescription-strength topicals, and performing surgery on the skin. In addition to treating more severe skin conditions, dermatologists can also perform cosmetic, in-office procedures.

To be specific, here are a few cases that may call for a dermatologist: 

  • Severe acne (think cystic or nodular
  • Eczema 
  • Psoriasis 
  • Skin lesions
  • Skin infections
  • Rashes 
  • Nail disorders
  • Contact dermatitis 
  • Hair loss
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Remember: Although dermatologists and estheticians treat the skin in different ways, you don't need to pick one or the other. "While estheticians and dermatologists are both experts in the skin, they have different areas of expertise and can therefore serve different functions," says Courtney Rubin, M.D., MBE, FAAD, chief medical officer and co-founder of Fig.1 Beauty. "It's not uncommon for patients to have an esthetician that they trust with skin maintenance and a dermatologist that they see regularly for acute and long-term care."

The takeaway. 

It can be tricky to figure out whether you should see a dermatologist or an esthetician. A quick rule of thumb is to see an esthetician for surface-level skin concerns and overall skin maintenance, whereas you may want to head to the derm for severe skin conditions, prescriptions, and surgical procedures. 

Of course, not everyone has access to both dermatologists and estheticians, so whatever is accessible to you will be helpful to the health of your skin no matter what—and the most important part of consulting any professional is finding one that you trust. In addition, there are countless online resources to teach you about skin care best practices, including ingredients, treatments, and lifestyle choices that can affect your skin health. 

Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.