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Washington State's New Licensing Law for Estheticians

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.

When offering our proposal, we kept laser and medium-depth peels within scope for the new 1200-hour master esthetician license; the added hours will more broadly and safely educate, while producing work-ready estheticians. And we raised educational standards with the 750-hour esthetician, while defining laser and medium-depth peels as beyond scope of practice.

This new esthetics law belongs to everyone. From its inception, many have worked hard to craft the ideas into a truly viable proposals for law; for that work, they should be justifiably proud. But most specifically and at the last, when we needed people to show up and, most notably, to stalwartly defend against attacks by those who sought to either destroy the bill or co-opt it, the following formed the “Committee of The Crossed Fingers”: Melissa Siedlicki, CIDESCO Diplomate, creator and instructor of the medical esthetics program at Clover Park Technical College; Jennifer Errigo, CIDESCO Diplomate, instructor in fundamental esthetics at Clover Park Technical College; Debbie Caddell, esthetician and owner of Caddell’s Laser Spa; Karlee Sorenson, esthetic instructor and laser specialist; Renee Beck and Christine Brown, students - and their many classmates. Each wrote the letters and made the calls, testified or showed up to support the bill in the House and the Senate, endured late nights and long days, and stood together in on behalf of our beloved profession.

And a special huzzah to Sylvia Garcia, chair of the Department of Cosmetology, Manicuring and Esthetics at Spokane Community College. Many long conferences, particularly those with a very patient legislative committee lawyer, as we worked with the original proposal to craft the language that was ultimately passed into law, strategy meetings, and all the rest that this legislative process demanded, have been our lot from the beginning ... and we wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Gratitude, Sylvia. Gratitude, Team.

All together, this committee worked with excellence and doggedness, doing what was needed each and every time to make sure that our beautiful bill passed successfully through the Legislature. This good bill, soon to be signed into law by our governor, accomplishes the following:

  • Increases current esthetician 600-hour training to 750-hour to meet the needs of new technology and allow students additional practice and theory while in school;
  • Prohibits the use of lasers and medium-depth peels for the 750-hour esthetician;
  • Specifies that injections are beyond the scope of practice for all estheticians;
  • Creates a master esthetician license that requires 1200 hours of training, a standard which is in line with several other states; notably Utah with 1200 hours, Kansas with 1000 hours and Nevada with 900 hours;
  • Stipulates that the master esthetician can operate lasers and perform medium-depth peels (while still adhering to the MQAC rules for laser operation);
  • Automatically grandfathers into the 750-hour esthetician license all currently licensed estheticians;
  • Provides five avenues for current licensees to qualify for the master esthetician license during grandfathering; and,
  • Gives until January 1, 2015, for estheticians to qualify for the master esthetician under grandfathering.