Most of us are probably dealing with a skin issue to some degree. Whether it’s the occasional hormonally charged breakout or psoriasis, we can’t imagine there’s such a thing as perfect skin (however, if you’re one of the lucky ones with a flawless complexion, congrats!). But how do you know if your skin issue should be treated an esthetician or if it needs to been by a doctor? We asked dermatologist Dr. Adam Friedman and Los Angeles-based esthetician Allison O’Connor to sound off on how to decide between a facial treatments or medical help.

derm vs esthetician

When Your Skin Isn’t Improving …

For some issues like acne and dryness, regular facial treatments are just the ticket to getting your skin back on track. But if you’re not seeing results, O’Connor says it might be time to rethink your plan of attack. “If, after a month, a common issue like acne is not improving, I recommend that clients go see a dermatologist,” she explains. “They might be able to produce faster results via a topical prescription.”

When Two Heads are Better Than One …

Sometimes, estheticians and dermatologists can work together to figure out a solution to your skin woes. “Estheticians often work with dermatologists to provide a rounded-out experience,” says Dr. Friedman. Estheticians can often help with post-procedure treatment and be a part of an upkeep plan for those undergoing anti-aging-related or other cosmetic procedures. “Estheticians can advise consumers on over-the-counter products, as well as perform facials and mild peels when appropriate,” explains Dr. Friedman. 

When a Condition is Beyond an Esthetician’s Capabilities …

Believe it or not, there are some issues estheticians are not allowed to treat. “Clients dealing with skin issues like milia I typically recommend to a doctor,” says O’Connor. Why? Milia is similar to acne in that it is white spots that form as a result of oil buildup. Sometimes the buildup hardens and doesn’t find a pore to escape from, which creates bumps under the skin called milia. “You have to break the skin to remove the excess oil, but some states — for example California — do not allow estheticians to use the instruments and perform the procedure required to treat this.”

Some patients with conditions commonly treated by estheticians, like pigmentation, can also be passed along to the hands of a doctor if they need more intense treatment. “While peels and home care can often reverse pigmentation, the condition can sometimes become more deep-set into the skin and require medicinal solutions,” says O’Connor.

When Your Condition is Serious …

Some conditions require a dermatologist’s treatment from the get-go. Psoriasis, for example, can be worsened by facial products and skincare treatments, therefore should be handled with kid gloves. “Psoriasis should be treated with ultra-gentle products, a topical prescription and/or a strict diet plan, all of which should be doctor-recommended,” says O’Connor.

Also, moles or any irregularities that can be signs of a more serious or possibly fatal issue should receive medical attention immediately. “If someone has concerns regarding any pigmented lesion, a referral is always welcome regardless of the outcome,” says Dr. Friedman. “It’s better to say ‘Oh, it's just something benign’ rather than, ‘You should have come in sooner.’ Skin issues like melanoma — the most dangerous form of skin cancer — can be addressed relatively quickly if caught early.”

So, which is it? Should you go to the dermatologist or esthetician? Tell us in the comments!

Photo: iStock

Let's Stay in Touch

Get our top stories straight to your inbox!