Dermatologist: Expertise, Training, and Specialties

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on January 31, 2024
12 min read

A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the skin, hair, and nails. These conditions can range in seriousness from an ordinary rash to skin cancer.

Your skin is your body’s largest organ. It helps protect you from disease, regulates your body's temperature, and more. There are more than 3,000 diseases of the skin, hair, and nails, so it’s important to have a doctor who is well-trained in this specialty. Dermatologists can also treat cosmetic concerns such as wrinkles, birthmarks, and scarring.

A dermatologist diagnoses and treats a broad array of skin conditions. By looking at your skin, they may also be able to identify symptoms that could point toward an internal condition, such as issues with your stomach, kidneys, or thyroid.

That’s not all dermatologists do. They may perform minor surgical procedures, such as mole removal or skin biopsies. Some specialize in performing larger surgeries, such as removing cysts. Dermatologists also treat skin issues that affect your appearance, and many have the training to provide cosmetic treatments such as Botox, fillers, chemical peels, and more.

Some dermatologists decide to continue their education after becoming a board-certified dermatologist. They may receive advanced medical training in a subspecialty of dermatology, such as:


A dermatopathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in both dermatology and pathology (the study and diagnosis of diseases). The dermatopathologist examines tissue samples and skin scrapings under a microscope to find out if you have a disease such as skin cancer. This specialist then writes their findings in a biopsy or pathology report, which includes information that will help your dermatologist decide the best treatment if needed.

Pediatric dermatology

Pediatric dermatologists diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions affecting children’s skin, hair, or nails. All dermatologists can treat children; however, some conditions occur more often in newborns through adolescents. These include birthmarks (such as port-wine stains and hemangiomas) and acne.

Medical dermatology

Medical dermatologists specialize in diagnosing and treating serious skin conditions. These diseases or their therapies may have a systemic effect, which means they may cause problems in other parts of the body, not just the skin.

Surgical dermatology

Dermatologic surgeons are board-certified doctors who specialize in skin surgery. Most procedures are done in an office setting using local anesthesia to numb the body part being treated. The kinds of surgeries these specialists perform range from removal of cancerous tissue to hair restoration, scar removal, and laser treatments.

Cosmetic dermatology

Cosmetic dermatologists have special training in improving the appearance of the skin, hair, and nails through a variety of treatments and procedures. This includes the removal of age spots, wrinkles, unwanted hair, cellulite, scars, tattoos, or stretch marks.

Dermatologists receive an extensive amount of education and training. The process involves:

  • A 4-year bachelor’s degree
  • A 4-year medical program to become a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathic medicine
  • A 1-year internship
  • A 3-year (or more) dermatology residency program

Some dermatologists go on to receive additional training in certain areas of dermatology. Some may also choose to become board-certified. If you’re visiting a board-certified dermatologist, you can be assured that you’re receiving care from a highly skilled, qualified doctor.

Dermatologist salary

Dermatologists earn an average annual salary ranging from $328,000 to $443,000. This can vary depending on the location, type of office setting, and any subspecialty of dermatology they may offer.

A dermatologist can diagnose and treat more than 3,000 conditions that affect the skin, nails, and hair. Some of the most common conditions they treat include:

Acne: A type of pimple that forms when skin follicles are blocked, leading to the buildup of oil, bacteria, and dead skin.

Autoimmune diseases: When your body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissue, mistaking it for harmful viruses or bacteria. Some skin conditions are caused by autoimmune diseases. These include cutaneous lupus (causing rashes and scaly patches), scleroderma (too much collagen which hardens and tightens the skin), and vasculitis (affecting blood vessels).

Dermatitis: A common skin condition that can cause a range of symptoms including swelling, irritation, itchiness, dryness, and rash. There are many forms of dermatitis, such as eczema.

Hair loss: When you lose more strands of hair than what’s considered average (up to 100 a day) and fewer or none grow back. There are different kinds and causes of hair loss (also called alopecia) that can affect both adults and children.

Hemangioma: A bright red birthmark made of extra blood vessels in the skin, which appears at birth or in the first month of life.

Itchy skin: Also called pruritus, this condition is characterized by dry, itchy skin. The affected skin may look no different than usual, or it may be bumpy and irritated. You should see a dermatologist if it lasts more than 2 weeks without getting better or if you have other symptoms such as weight loss, fever, or night sweats.

Moles: Small, dark brown spots on the skin (also called nevi) that are very common and usually harmless. They can also change over time and be a sign of skin cancer.

Nail conditions: Changes in the color, texture, or shape of your nails can be harmless or a sign of infection or a disease. 

Psoriasis: A skin disease that causes a rash with itchy, flaky patches on the body and scalp. It is a chronic (long-term) condition that often comes and goes in cycles.

Rosacea: A common skin condition that causes redness on your face. It can last for weeks or months before disappearing for a while and coming back. It can also cause enlarged blood vessels and small pus-filled bumps.

Skin cancer: A type of cancer most often caused by sun exposure, which can lead to abnormal growth of skin cells. There are different kinds of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Regular checks of moles and other marks on your skin are the best way to detect skin cancer at its earliest stage.

Skin infections: Redness, swelling, and pain may be signs of a skin infection. Skin infections are caused by bacteria. There are different types of skin infections including cellulitis (which can spread inside the body and be serious), skin abscesses (when pus collects under the skin), and staph infections (which cause red bumps that can turn into deep, painful abscesses).

Spider and varicose veins: These are veins in the legs that are close to the skin’s surface and become swollen and twisted (varicose) or look like a spider's web, appearing red or blue (spider). Spider veins are milder than varicose veins. These veins can be a cosmetic concern as well as a cause of serious pain and discomfort.

Vitiligo: A condition that causes your skin to lose pigmentation (color). Vitiligo appears as white or light patches on your skin and usually starts on your hands, forearms, face, and feet.

There are many reasons why you should see a dermatologist. These include:


A rash occurs as a result of many issues. You may have had an allergic reaction or been exposed to poison ivy. Other causes include psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, or a reaction to medication. If your rash is itchy and won’t go away, it’s time to schedule an appointment.

Acne treatments aren’t working

Acne is a common issue in teens. For many, over-the-counter remedies help keep it under control. However, these treatments don’t work all the time. Sometimes, even adults develop stubborn acne, and treatments that worked in the teen years are no longer effective (or make the issue worse). A dermatologist can diagnose different types of acne, prescribe treatments, and help minimize acne scarring.

Hair loss

If you’ve noticed that you’re beginning to lose your hair, a dermatologist can help determine the cause (such as a scalp condition) and recommend treatments.


Warts are very common. Although they’re not harmful, they can cause pain. They may also affect your appearance. Dermatologists perform different procedures to remove them, such as topical medications, cryotherapy (freezing it off), or surgery.

Changes in a mole or skin patch

If you’ve started to notice a mole or skin patch on your body that’s changing shape or getting larger, it’s time to see a dermatologist. Such signs could indicate skin cancer, so you must seek a diagnosis sooner rather than later.

Cosmetic treatments

Fine lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, and other issues that affect your appearance may also affect your confidence. Dermatologists can recommend and perform treatments and procedures to improve these concerns.

Dermatologists are trained to diagnose and treat a variety of skin, hair, and nail conditions. They can recognize symptoms that appear on your skin that may be a sign of a problem inside your body. Dermatologists perform several medical, cosmetic, and surgical procedures in the office. These include:

Biopsies. A skin biopsy is often used to diagnose cancer or other conditions. Your dermatologist will scrape cells from the surface of the skin or with a scalpel if more tissue is needed. The area is first cleaned and numbed, and then it is covered with an adhesive bandage or stitched closed after the procedure. The cells are then tested by a lab.

Laser therapy. Lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL) devices can treat a variety of skin conditions. Laser therapy can be used for many cosmetic procedures, such as reducing scars from acne or surgery, removing tattoos, fading dark spots from sun damage, reducing wrinkles, removing unwanted hair, or treating rosacea.

Hair removal. Permanent hair removal from the face or body may involve laser therapy or electrolysis. Laser therapy uses light beams, and electrolysis uses an electrical current to destroy the hair follicle and prevent hair from growing back. Several treatments are usually needed for best results.

Chemical peels. A chemical solution is applied to the skin to remove the top layers, allowing it to grow back smoother. Chemical peels are used to treat wrinkles, uneven skin tones, and scars.

Cosmetic injections. Fillers, Botox, and other substances can be injected into your face using a thin syringe. This is done to plump sagging skin, add volume, and reduce wrinkles.

Mohs surgery. This procedure treats skin cancer. It involves removing one thin layer of skin at a time and examining it under a microscope until no more cancer cells are visible. Your skin is numbed with a local anesthetic so you won’t feel any pain.

Surgical excision. Your dermatologist will use a sharp knife (scalpel) to remove tissue, before closing with stitches or other methods. Surgical excisions are needed to remove skin cancer or precancerous skin cells.

Cryotherapy. Extremely cold substances such as argon gas or liquid nitrogen can freeze and remove abnormal tissue. Cryotherapy is used to treat skin cancer, precancerous cells, warts, skin tags, and other conditions.

Sclerotherapy. This treatment can help varicose veins or spider veins, most often on your legs. Using a needle, the dermatologist injects a chemical solution into your vein. The solution causes the blood vessel to expand, stick to itself, and form a scar, which closes off the vein.

Dermabrasion. This cosmetic procedure removes the top layers of your skin and allows smoother, new growth. The dermatologist uses a special tool to scrape (or “sand”) the skin. Dermabrasion is used to reduce scars from acne, surgery, or injuries. It can also reduce wrinkles and dark spots, and remove tattoos, stretch marks, and precancerous or noncancerous growths.

Tumescent liposuction. Your dermatologist can surgically remove excess fat from certain parts of the body, such as the belly, thighs, or buttocks. Tumescent liposuction involves injecting a solution into the tissue to reduce pain, blood loss, and bruising. The fat is removed through a thin tube (cannula) attached to a vacuum.

Skin grafts and flaps. After the removal of skin cancer cells, you may need a skin graft or flap to cover your wound and help it heal. A graft is tissue from another part of your body, while a skin flap is tissue from surrounding skin.

Before visiting the dermatologist, there are a few things that you should keep in mind. The doctor will check every inch of your skin. You should take off any nail polish and wear long hair down. If you arrive wearing makeup, you may be asked to remove it. When you’re in the exam room, you may be asked to remove your clothes and put on a paper robe.

The visit will likely start with the dermatologist going over your medical and health history. They’ll also go over any specific symptoms you’re experiencing. Then they’ll examine your skin from your scalp to the soles of your feet, checking for anything unusual. If you have specific concerns, they’ll address those as well.

If the dermatologist finds anything of concern, they’ll diagnose it. Sometimes, this might require blood work, allergy tests, skin scrapings, or a biopsy. Then, they’ll provide treatment recommendations, which may include prescription medications or other procedures. You may then be asked to schedule a follow-up visit.

Dermatologists are specially-trained medical doctors who diagnose and treat conditions of the skin, hair, and nails. There are more than 3,000 diseases that can affect these parts of your body. Dermatologists perform a variety of procedures including examining your skin for abnormal changes, collecting skin cells for lab testing (biopsy), removing unwanted or cancerous growths, and treating a wide array of skin disorders, from medical to cosmetic.

What is dermatologist treatment?

Dermatologists diagnose and treat skin conditions. Treatments vary and may include:

  • Medicines applied to your skin or injected with a needle
  • Therapy using lasers, which are high-intensity beams of light
  • Dermatologic surgeries such as mole removals, skin biopsies (samples to view in a lab), and removal of cancerous cells or growths
  • Cosmetic procedures, such as chemical peels, sclerotherapy (for varicose or spider veins), dermal fillers, and other injections

What does a dermatologist do when you visit them? 

If you are visiting a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening, you will be examined thoroughly from your scalp to your feet. You will be asked to remove your clothing and put on a gown. Your dermatologist will carefully look for any spots on your skin that could be cancerous or precancerous. If they find a suspicious spot, they may want to take a picture of it for your medical record and perform a skin biopsy.

The dermatologist will clean and numb the area, and use a blade or scalpel to take a sample of skin cells. You should only feel a small pinch from the numbing injection. The sample will be sent to a lab for testing, and your doctor will share the results with you in a few days to a week.

If your spot is cancerous or precancerous, your dermatologist will discuss removing it completely. 

If you are seeing your dermatologist for other concerns, they may examine you, order lab tests, make a diagnosis, and treat your condition with medicine or a procedure. To prepare for your visit, avoid wearing makeup or nail polish, bring along any notes or questions about your health or medical history, and let your doctor know of any medications or supplements you are taking.

What are the four types of dermatology?

Dermatology subspecialists include:

  • Dermatopathologists: Medical doctors who are experts in dermatology and pathology (the study and diagnosis of diseases). These specialists examine skin cells and tissue samples under a microscope to identify diseases such as skin cancer.

  • Dermatologic surgeons: Board-certified doctors who specialize in skin surgery. Most procedures are done in the office using local anesthesia (you remain awake but your body part is numb). The surgeries offered range from removal of cancerous tissue to hair restoration, scar removal, laser treatments, and more.

  • Pediatric dermatologists: Dermatologists specializing in conditions affecting children’s skin, hair, or nails, from newborns through adolescents. 

  • Cosmetic dermatologists: Dermatologists with special training in treatments and procedures to improve the appearance of the skin, hair, and nails. This includes the removal of age spots, wrinkles, unwanted hair, cellulite, scars, tattoos, or stretch marks.

How can I get an appointment with a dermatologist?

There is often a wait when scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist, especially if you are a new patient. Here are some tips for getting timely care:

  • Make your appointment as soon as possible. If it’s a routine skin screening, book it months in advance.
  • Explain your concerns when contacting the office. If you have an urgent issue such as a suspected skin cancer (a mole that is changing appearance, itching, or bleeding), make sure to mention it.
  • Ask if there is a waitlist if another patient cancels an appointment.
  • See your primary care provider and ask them to reach out to your dermatologist.