Dermatologists are physicians who specialize in skin care. They receive extensive training to help keep skin healthy and to treat skin problems.
What can I expect from my visit to a dermatologist?
You can expect several things during your visit:
- Interest in you, your skin problem and your concerns.
- Medical expertise, history and a physical exam relevant to your skin problem.
- Any needed testing, such as lab tests, or a prescription for tests.
- An explanation of the condition, treatment options and potential adverse reactions to medicines if prescribed.
- An estimated time and cost of the treatment you choose.
- Information about needed return visits.
Do I really need to take care of my skin?
Absolutely! Did you know that your skin is an organ of your body? It is the largest and most visible of the body's organs and one of the most complex because it interacts with many other organs. Its main purpose is to act as a shield protecting your insides from external stress: disease, infection and environmental factors such as the sun, wind and rain. Your skin also plays an important part in your appearance. By taking care of your skin, you help it do its job and look healthy, too.
What functions does the skin perform?
Protector — Your skin takes quite a beating! It comes into contact with harmful agents, such as bacteria, viruses and allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), and it works to protect your body from their effects. It also helps regulate your body temperature; for instance, to cool down, you sweat when you exercise. The skin can do all this while withstanding everyday assaults from the environment: sun, wind, heat, dryness, cold weather, pollution and cigarette smoke. All these factors can damage the skin, limiting its protective function.
Window of Health — Your skin also reflects your health. When you are healthy, your skin glows. When you do not eat well or are under stress, your skin shows it. Also, because your skin interacts with other organs, it can alert you to health problems that may be going on in your body.
How can I take care of my skin?
Here are some simple steps most people can take to protect their skin:
- If you have normal or dry skin, use moisturizers and gentle, nondrying cleansers.
- Help prevent skin cancer by daily using sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) outside, wearing protective clothing outdoors and avoiding overexposure to the sun and artificial tanning.
- Wear gloves when you wash dishes, use harsh chemicals, garden, rake leaves and do other activities that can be hard on your hands. Proper care of the skin also should include the help of a dermatologist.
What kind of training do dermatologists get?
After medical school and a year of hospital residency in general medicine, dermatologists have at least three more years of intensive medical and surgical training. Dermatology residency training focuses on the skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes (the "wet skin" of the mouth and genital area). Board-certified dermatologists have completed this training and passed a comprehensive test given by the American Board of Dermatology. About 8,500 board-certified dermatologists practice in the United States.
What role can a dermatologist play in the care of my skin?
A dermatologist can help you care for your skin in important ways:
Diagnosis — Dermatologists diagnose skin disease quickly and effectively by noting your symptoms and checking your skin. They then give you options for proven treatments. If you have any symptoms of skin disease, see a dermatologist as soon as possible.
Prevention — Dermatologists can also help you prevent unnecessary damage to your skin. They do this through education and by showing you how to examine your skin for signs of skin cancer or other skin problems.
Surgery — Dermatologists are also skin surgeons. They often perform surgery on the skin to prevent disease, provide early control of disease or improve how the skin looks.
Cosmetic Procedures — Dermatologists can improve the appearance of skin damaged by aging, sunlight or disease. Some ways they do this include chemical peels (a form of skin rejuvenation), liposuction (a type of fat removal) and removal of skin growths, discoloration or unwanted veins.
Is there a certain age when people should first see a dermatologist?
No. Dermatologists treat people of all ages. Skin problems can affect everyone from newborns to older adults. You or your family members should see a dermatologist whenever you have symptoms of skin trouble. Even if you have never had skin problems, it is a good idea to see a dermatologist as an adult. Nearly everyone will have some kind of skin problem in their lifetime. The skin’s protective barrier can break down due to age, disease or other factors. Your dermatologist can help you watch for the long-term effects of the environment, aging and disease and also help prevent skin problems.
When might I benefit from regular visits to a dermatologist?
Some adults regularly visit a dermatologist to help find conditions such as skin cancer early. Since skin cancer is the most common cancer, it is a good idea to regularly see a dermatologist for skin checkups. You also should check your own skin for changes in moles and for new lumps or discoloration.
What common problems do dermatologists treat today?
Dermatologists have many effective medical and surgical treatments for problems of the skin, hair and nails. Here are some common conditions they treat:
Acne — Acne is the term for plugged pores, pimples and deeper lumps such as cysts that occur on the upper half of the body. Acne affects most teenagers, but adults can get acne, too. One survey placed acne as the most often treated skin disorder. Today, medical treatment can reduce scarring due to acne.
Athlete's Foot — A fungal infection causes athlete's foot. Moisture, such as sweating, and tight shoes and socks make the perfect setting for a fungus to grow on your feet.
Cold Sores — The herpes simplex virus can cause blisters called cold sores almost anywhere on a person's skin. The virus has two types. One tends to occur around the mouth and nose, and the other often appears on the buttocks and genitals.
Hair Loss — Hair loss can occur for many reasons, the most common of which is hereditary baldness. New medicines may help reduce baldness in some people. Another treatment option is a hair transplant, which involves moving small plugs of hair-growing skin from the back and sides of your scalp to the balding areas.
Hives — Another name for hives is "wheals." These pink swellings occur in groups on any part of the skin. Each wheal lasts a few hours before fading away, leaving no trace. Hives usually itch and may also sting or burn. Allergic reactions to foods, drugs and other allergic triggers can cause hives.
Nail Problems — Problems with your fingernails or toenails could be a sign of a health problem. See a dermatologist if your nails are thick, tough or painful or have scaling, white spots or red lines on them.
Psoriasis — Taking its name from the Greek word for "itch," psoriasis is a persistent skin disease. In psoriasis, the skin forms red, thick patches covered by silvery scales. Most often psoriasis affects the scalp, elbows, knees and lower part of the back. More than 5 million Americans have psoriasis.
Rashes — Often called dermatitis, rashes can become itchy or painful. Rashes have many causes, including allergic reactions, friction, prolonged exposure to heat and moisture, or contact with irritants, such as harsh chemicals. Hand eczema is a common rash. Many people with this problem start with dry, chapped hands that later become red, scaly and swollen.
Warts — A virus causes warts. The four most common kinds of wart are hand, plantar (foot), flat and genital warts. Warts usually are skin-colored and feel rough.
Will I need prescription drugs?
When appropriate, dermatologists recommend medicines, such as creams or pills. They are trained to prescribe drugs that have the best chance of helping and the least chance of harming you.
What changes are taking place in the field of dermatology?
Many changes are occurring in this field of medicine. Dermatologists have new ways to effectively treat skin problems, so that their patients will get better faster.