Regulation Action Plan: What’s in a Name?


I was recently contacted separately by two estheticians. Although they lived in different states, they both had the same story: They knew an esthetician who had been fined by their respective states’ inspector for describing themselves as a “medical esthetician” and describing their services as “clinical treatments.” Both my callers had the same question: “Is that really a thing we can’t do? Why not?”

Many estheticians are calling themselves “licensed medical estheticians.” Others list “CME” after their name for “certified medical esthetician” or “MA” for “medical aesthetician.” Estheticians are all over the place when it comes to the job titles we give ourselves, and how we talk to the public about our training and what we do.

How services are listed are being used as basis for enforcement with state inspectors. If a service is advertised that could be out of scope, it may considered “prima facie” evidence, which means it is true until proved otherwise.

Esthetics is a state-regulated profession—when you are not aware that your state’s law may have something to say about what you are allowed to call yourself, as well as what you are able to list your services as, it could come back and bite you.

What is your legal title?

The easiest way to determine what you are legally allowed to call yourself is to look at the title that is on your state license. Whatever it is, that is your legal job title in the eyes of the state board. I have never heard of a state board fining people for calling themselves estheticians instead of facial technologists—but if you start calling yourself a medical esthetician, that’s where the problems begin.

States are making it illegal to call yourself a medical esthetician, and some have also made specific comments regarding the use of the term. In Missouri, for example, the board makes it plain that using the term “medical esthetician” will be considered false advertising: “Due to the potential for the public confusion, the Board would like to caution all licensees to monitor their advertising to ensure that they are fully and accurately disclosing their license status with the Board. Estheticians using misleading terms in any advertising may be subject to discipline under section 329.140.2(14), which authorizes the Board to discipline a licensee for the use of any advertisement or solicitation which is false, misleading or deceptive to the general public or persons to whom the advertisement or solicitation is primarily directed,” according to a Missouri Cosmetology Board statement.

It’s up to you to determine if your state has any rules about this. If you cannot find any information, then it is likely that a public statement has not been made—but you can still be disciplined for false advertising. This is written into each state’s rules and regulations, usually under the section about grounds for disciplinary action.

Almost every profession sets requirements about what practitioners can call themselves. Medical professionals can use the appropriate letters after their name, such as MD, and specify their board certification, but cannot advertise themselves under a title they are not licensed to use.

“But I’m certified!”

If you have taken an advanced class, certification or workshop in medical esthetics, that’s great—but it’s a different qualification from your licensed title, and no matter what your training provider may have implied, such courses do not give you the legal right to call yourself a licensed medical esthetician. There is no licensed medical esthetician designation in the United States, either federally or in any state. To call yourself one in your marketing or other public communication is false and misleading to the consumer.

Of course, you can publicize your advanced certifications—just make sure you do not refer to yourself as “licensed” in that specialty.

What to say

Go into detail about your education, your advanced certifications, and show before-and-after pictures of clients. This is essential to build new business. After all, a client has no idea what training any of our certifications involve, or what “medical estheticians” actually do.

Following are a couple of ideas about how you can describe yourself and your practice in your marketing material to make it obvious that you provide advanced services while still keeping within your legal limitations. Some states require you to list your license number; others do not. Just remember to separate your official license title from your specialty education.

“My services are designed to show results, why can’t I advertise that?”

You absolutely can! How you do it will make the difference between being in scope and out of scope. Boards are looking at specific words that describe curing a condition. Here is an example of a treatment description that was challenged by an inspector:

PRX Acne Treatment

1 hr.


This service starts with a clinical consultation to determine your skin type and what type of acne you have. Then we will deep clean the skin, exfoliate and do extractions. After the service you will get recommendations about how to use home care to stop further acne breakouts and improve your overall skin health.

At first glance this is an entirely appropriate description of what an esthetician can do within the treatment room. Unfortunately the medical board thought otherwise and this service description was sent to the cosmetology board for enforcement.

The statements that concerned the board were:

  1. “... to determine what type of acne you have.” This infers diagnosis; and
  2. “... to stop further acne breakouts.” This infers a cure.

Although it seems petty, instead of focusing on the injustice of the situation, here is an example of a description that could work without potential legal ramifications for the same service.

PRX Acne Facial Treatment

1 hr.


This service starts with a professional skin assessment to determine the best care for your skin type and condition. Then we perform a deep cleansing facial, customized specifically for your skin issues. After the service you will get recommendations about how to use home care, lifestyle changes and resources to improve further acne breakouts.

There are ways to reword service descriptions that keep you within scope. Every time you write a treatment description, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Does it sound like I am curing a disease?
  • Am I overselling the results of this service?
  • Will a client clearly understand what results they can expect from this service?

An easy way to deal with this issue is to have a short menu that focuses on results of the service and price it based on time spent. Use the same terminology on your website and post before-and-after photos of clients.

Your value is not based on the letters following your name; it comes from the results you can provide.

You may be thinking, “What’s the point of education if I can’t use it in my official title or in my service descriptions?” Your clients may not know what all those initials stand for, but they do understand education. The certificates on your wall and your marketing materials are all ways to show off your advanced education. Be proud of what you have learned, but list it separately from your title and make sure that clients understand what it means. At the end of the day, the only thing that the client wants is results. A well-trained esthetician can provide that while working within scope.

Keeping in mind how you represent yourself and your business will save you a lot of potential headaches as state boards start to enforce their rules when faced by pressure from the medical community.

Schmaling headshotSusanne Schmaling is the director of education for Associated Skin Care Professionals. A licensed esthetician and experienced instructor with more than 15 years of experience, Schmaling is also a member of the 2014–2015 Skin Inc. Editorial Advisory Board.



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