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What is a Dermatologist?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 23, 2021

Your skin is your body’s largest organ. It’s also your first line of defense against bacteria, viruses, moisture, heat, and more. It helps to regulate your body temperature and plays an important role in your immune health. It also provides clues about your internal health. 

It makes sense that such a large and important organ should have a doctor that specializes in its care. A dermatologist does just that.  Also known as a skin doctor, a dermatologist is a medical doctor that specializes in conditions that affect your skin, hair, and nails. They provide treatment for more than 3,000 conditions that affect these parts of your body, including such ones as psoriasis and skin cancer. If you’re experiencing issues with your skin, a dermatologist can provide the care you need to improve its health.

What Does a Dermatologist Do?

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 specialize even further:

Dermatopathology

A dermatopathologist is a dermatologist that diagnoses skin conditions on the microscopic level. They examine tissue samples and skin scrapings using methods such as electron microscopy. 

Pediatric Dermatology

While all dermatologists can technically treat children, some skin conditions occur more frequently (or only) in younger individuals. Pediatric dermatologists specialize in treating these conditions. 

Mohs Surgery

This type of surgeon is a dermatologist who performs Mohs surgery, a procedure that treats skin cancer. The procedure involves removing thin layers of skin and examining it under a microscope until no cancer cells are visible.  

Education and Training

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. 

What Conditions Does a Dermatologist Treat?

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:

Reasons to See a Dermatologist

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

Rashes

A rash occurs as a result of many issues. You may have had an allergic reaction or been exposed to poison ivy. Other rash 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. Sometimes, however, these treatments don’t work. Adults sometimes develop stubborn acne as well, 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

Warts are very common and, while 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 it’s important that you 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. 

What to Expect at the Dermatologist

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, which might require blood work, allergy testing, a skin scraping, or a biopsy. Then, they’ll provide recommendations for treatment, which may include prescription medications or other procedures. You may then be asked to schedule a follow-up visit. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: “What is a Dermatologist?”

Merck Manual Professional Version: “Skin Manifestations of Internal Disease.”

American Board of Dermatology: “What is a Dermatologist?” 

Skin Cancer Foundation: “Mohs Surgery.” 

American Board of Dermatology: “What Does It Mean to Be Board Certified?”

Mayo Clinic: “Dermatology: Conditions Treated.”

Mayo Clinic: “Slide Show: Common Skin Rashes.”

American Academy of Dermatology Associaton: “Adult Acne.”

Merck Manuals: Consumer Version: “Diagnosis of Skin Disorders.”  

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