What is a Cosmetic Dermatologist?

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on July 07, 2023
4 min read

Over the last ten years, cosmetic procedures have become more common. Minimally invasive procedures have seen an even larger increase than surgical ones. In 2019, the five most common nonsurgical cosmetic procedures were botulinum toxin (such as botox) injections, hyaluronic acid treatments, laser hair removal, nonsurgical fat reduction, and photorejuvenation (IPL).

While some dermatologists focus on medical issues and dangers related to the skin, others choose to concentrate on aesthetic issues and the cosmetic applications of dermatology. Cosmetic dermatology is a subspecialty of dermatology, and practitioners often undergo additional training. However, the subspecialty does not require additional certification.

A cosmetic dermatologist may work at dermatology clinics, general practices, or medical spas. Instead of addressing patient needs, they address patient desires, performing services such as:

  • Correcting skin tone
  • Smoothing wrinkles
  • Removing hair on the face or body
  • Reducing surface fat
  • Tightening skin
  • Removing tattoos
  • Treating cellulite
  • Treating acne and acne scars

Depending on where they practice and what you wish to have done, they may or may not require an initial appointment to form a treatment plan. In addition to in-person treatments, they may also prescribe medications (oral or topical) and make recommendations for lifestyle and skin care.

A cosmetic dermatologist needs all of the training and certification of a dermatologist. After their bachelor’s degree, they require the following in order to be board-certified:

  • Graduation from an accredited medical school 
  • Completion of an accredited residency program in dermatology, which includes a year of internship and three years of residency
  • Submission of two letters of recommendation from diplomates of a board of certification

They may be certified by the American Board of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The inclusion of FAAD after their name indicates that the doctor is board-certified and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology.

In addition to this education, a cosmetic dermatologist will often pursue additional training in cosmetic procedures. 

Cosmetic dermatologists offer many services, which are often listed on their websites. Their services may include the following as well as others:

Botox Injections

Injecting botulinum toxin into the skin reduces the appearance of wrinkles. It inhibits the release of acetylcholine, which is responsible for the contraction of facial muscles. Because wrinkles are formed through repetitive contraction of these muscles, the lack of acetylcholine results in temporarily diminishing the appearance of wrinkles.

Dermal Fillers

Dermal fillers are another type of injection aimed at increasing the skin’s youthful appearance. A substance is injected into hollows, lines, or wrinkles in the face with an almost immediate volumizing effect. There are several types of fillers, and you should consult with your doctor to determine which is best for you:

  • Hyaluronic acid fillers
  • Synthetic wrinkle fillers
  • Collagen wrinkle fillers
  • Autologous wrinkle fillers, i.e, fillers made from a patient’s own fat or blood

Exfoliating Treatments

There are multiple ways to remove dead skin cells, which can otherwise build up on the surface of the skin and cause problems: 

  • Physical exfoliation involves applying an abrasive substance to the face that scrapes away dead surface cells. 
  • Microdermabrasion uses tiny crystals that are sprayed on the skin to reach the middle layer of the skin. 
  • Chemical peels use chemical, usually acidic, substances to exfoliate the skin and come in a variety of strengths. 
  • Laser skin treatment exfoliates the skin with light energy and also works to stimulate collagen production. 

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Therapy 

Light beams of different, filtered wavelengths are applied to the skin to stimulate collagen production. IPL is recommended for the management of sunspots, small vascular spiders, small moles, wrinkles, and expression lines.

Laser Hair Removal

This procedure uses a concentrated laser to damage hair follicles, inhibiting or delaying future hair growth. Laser hair removal delays hair regrowth for a long period of time, but it does not result in permanent hair removal.

Tattoo Removal

Most dermatologists now remove tattoos using lasers that can get rid of tattoos more efficiently and safely than earlier methods.

Non-Invasive Fat Removal

This procedure is intended to treat stubborn pockets of fat that diet and exercise can’t reduce on their own. The dermatologist will use cold, heat, ultrasound waves, or injections in order to kill targeted fat cells, permanently removing them.

Your experience will largely depend on where you visit your cosmetic dermatologist. If they work out of a standard dermatology clinic, you can expect a fairly standard doctor’s appointment that may include or schedule treatment in a procedure room.

However, some cosmetic dermatologists work at medical spas where they perform and supervise a range of beauty treatments in a more luxurious spa-like setting. If you elect for this experience, you should ask spas about their policies regarding supervision. Make sure a qualified dermatologist is on hand to supervise the procedure.