How I Became an Esthetician in California

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How to Become an Esthetician in California by popular California beauty blog, Haute Beauty Guide: image of a Esthetician small business.

So many of you responded to a recent post where I shared my frustrations as a small business owner. For the most part, my journey as a California Esthetician has been great and allowed me to live a full life. I paid my way through college, had the flexibility to pursue learning new languages and stay home with my baby for most of the week. But, as I was learning how to become an esthetician in California, I struggled with some common mistakes that no one warned me about. For all of my readers that are estheticians but struggle to make rent or looking to become an esthetician; I created this series to cover a few of the mistakes I made and saw over the years that taught me the biggest lessons.

How to Become an Esthetician in California

I decided to become an estie after my first trip to a posh spa in Las Vegas. I always love skincare and makeup often creating crazy looks each morning before school. When I had my first facial I realized this could be a real career. I hated touching other people’s hair so I knew I didn’t want to do a cosmetology license. As soon as I arrived back in Monterey I booked a tour at the local beauty college.

Beauty school was a nightmare! I absolutely hated it. This was pre-recession so beauty school was relatively cheap compared to most trade schools. The California ROP program paid for most of it and my Aunt+Uncle gave me a loan to pay for the rest. I also worked part-time to cover my expenses so it took me two months longer to complete the program than my classmates. In total, I paid $3350 for my kit, education, and uniform. Today that number runs closer to $35000!

Every other person I met, over 50 girls, was there for FREE! I was the only sucker who paid for the training. They were all on retraining/unemployment/welfare/disability programs. Out of dozens of girls who trained at the same time as me… I was one of ONLY two to get a license and get a job!

The program consisted of studying a textbook and listening to lectures for the first few months and then advancing to working on clients. About a month in, our teacher got into a fight with the owner right in front of us and quit! It was the craziest thing. After that, we watched movies, Oprah and Dr. Phil before we had enough “lecture” hours to work on clients.

The schooling was a joke. I felt unprepared at every step. When I graduated I was pretty sure I would never work in the field. There was no training on bookkeeping, keeping a clean/sanitary salon, or sales. All skills I found super important throughout my career.

After graduating I took a job as a bookkeeper. I learned valuable lessons in that job that made it easy for me to track inventory (plus why it was important), and how to keep track of my accounts so tax season was easier. When I started my first job I met girls who had no clue how much they made, brought cardboard boxes to their accountant, and then complained about how much they charged and who just had no clue they needed to file taxes! It is a field where learning on the job is pretty much a give-in.

While working full-time as a bookkeeper I started taking advanced classes in skincare. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in the field or not. My first was a waxing class in Oakland with a brand called Eva’s Esthetics, now Tu’el. They were amazing. I loved the vibe and Patty the trainer ended up being a great mentor in my first year in business.

For two years I kept a bookkeeping job and took skincare classes. I didn’t even have my license–I failed the test. Everything the “school” had taught us was wrong and I didn’t have any friends or family in town who could sit as my model. You had to have a real person back then–now they use a mannequin. Then one day I realized my boss was a horrible bully and no one in management seemed to care. Plus, bookkeeping was boring. I finished my work a few hours in and then shopped online for the rest of the day.

One day I booked an online refresher course for my license and begged one of my coworkers who was certain that I was meant to be an esthetician to model for me. I passed! A few weeks later I started looking for jobs. I found a salon hiring and went for an interview. I liked the owner and had no clue what to expect. My plan was to work part-time as a bookkeeper and as an esthetician, until I had enough clients to actually pay the bills. That didn’t work out….

Take away lessons… Beauty School is meant to help you pass your licensing exam. The state ranks schools by their exam pass rate! Look this up before putting down a deposit. Mine had the worst pass rate in the area and I had no clue! Find mentors. Reach out to local salons, or connect with brand reps when they present at school. Both are valuable resources for what to expect when you are first starting out.

Part 2 is here. I’ll link each piece in this series here as I publish.

Do you have any questions I didn’t answer on how to become an esthetician in California? Let me know in a comment below!


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