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Washington State's New Licensing Law for Estheticians

Posted: April 22, 2013

By Anne Martin, a CIDESCO Diplomate, licensed esthetician instructor, the founder and chair of the Northwest Aestheticians' Guild, and a former chair of the state advisory board to the Washington State Department of Licensing for Cosmetology, Barbering, Manicuring and Esthetics.

A bit of context for the need for law change in Washington state: estheticians are increasingly being hired by doctors, medical spas and clinics. We cost less than nurses and ARNPs, and our subject expertise is skin. In 2008 the cosmetic industry was a $60 billion industry; in 2011 it had increased by 5.3% ... in a recession no less! The call for estheticians to work in these medical spas and laser clinics is sounding louder as the industry responds to the demands of aging baby boomers.

Currently, in Washington, estheticians are required to have 600 hours of education from a licensed school, and then take a state exam given by our governing body, the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL), to earn an esthetics license. Embedded in that 600 hours is the scope of practice that permits use of lasers. Granted, this work has to be delegated or supervised by a physician (a condition imposed upon estheticians by the Medical Quality Assurance Commission). But, and here’s the rub: no 600-hour school curriculum can fit into it even the most rudimentary instruction on lasers, let alone the in-depth teaching that would prepare estheticians for laser work.

How does laser training happen now? It relies on the business that does the hiring, with no training consistency required. Typically, that education consists of the representative who sold the laser equipment offering two to four hours of training. And then that trained individual usually carries out the training on the next hire, etc. ... a little like playing telephone. Some estheticians or their employers opt to pay for private classes; some pay to go out of state to recognized laser schools, for more thorough and longer training. A good training idea, but it comes at an economic loss to this state. A colleague who operates a laser clinic, with two physicians on board for oversight, reckons she has spent over $25,000 sending her estheticians out of the state for training over the last several years.

To address the laser dilemma, and to raise educational standards in our remarkably advancing esthetic profession, the Northwest Aestheticians’ Guild first presented the idea of tiers in stakeholder workshops held over a span of three to four years and sponsored by DOL. We had carefully considered the idea of a single 1200-hour license and then discarded it, because we thought there will always be those who prefer to practice traditional esthetics, sans lasers and medium-depth peels, and we wanted room at the table for all. Moreover, we believe it is important in this economic climate to avoid putting smaller schools under such pressure as to double their training to the point that they go out of business. Choice, then, was strongly supported: for schools, as to which tier they would offer (if not both), and estheticians, as to which they would study. Our belief is that the workplace demands will help potential students make the decision as to which tier best suits their goals and answers the marketplace needs.