Dermatologists: What do they do?
A dermatologist is a doctor that specializes in treating skin, hair, nail, and mucous membrane disorders and diseases.
They can also address cosmetic issues, helping to revitalize the appearance of the skin, hair, and nails.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that, in the United States, there were 39 million visits to office-based dermatologists, who were not federally employed, in 2010.
Types of Dermatology
A dermatologist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who specializes in treating the skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes, such as those in the linings inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids. All dermatologists receive training in the four branches of dermatology: medical dermatology, cosmetic dermatology, surgical dermatology, and dermatopathology. However, a dermatologist might choose to specialize in one of these specific branches:1
- Medical dermatology: The dermatologist diagnoses, treats and helps to prevent the diseases that can affect the skin, hair, and nails.
- Surgical dermatology: The dermatologist treats the diseases that affect the skin, hair, and nails through surgical procedures, such as the removal of skin cancer.
- Cosmetic dermatology: The dermatologist uses treatments to improve the appearance of the skin, hair, and nails. Cosmetic dermatology is just that: cosmetic. It’s not an essential component of maintaining good health. It encompasses procedures such as injecting fillers for a more youthful appearance, chemical peels, hair transplants and laser surgery to diminish the appearance of scars, wrinkles, varicose veins, etc.
- Dermatopathology: The dermatologist specializes in dermatology and pathology. He or she examines samples of the skin, hair, and nails to diagnose and treat diseases.
6 Reasons to Schedule a Dermatologist Visit
A dermatologist plays an important role in educating, screening, and treating various skin issues, including:
1. Acne. If you have acne that is not responding to an over-the-counter skin treatment, you may want to schedule a visit with a dermatologist, advises Woolery-Lloyd. A dermatologist can determine which kind of prescription treatment would be most effective for your acne and lifestyle, according to the AAD.
2. Skin cancer. A dermatologist can screen you for skin cancer. Talk to your family doctor or dermatologist about how often you need to be checked for changes to your skin. An annual body check is especially important if you are in a high-risk group — if you are fair-haired or light-eyed, or you have a history of blistering sunburns, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“As dermatologists, we know that the early detection of skin cancer by routine skin examinations is crucial for successful treatment,” says Robert S. Kirsner, MD, PhD, chair of the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
In addition to regular screenings, you should also see a dermatologist if you notice a change in the shape, size, or coloring of any of your moles. A dermatologist can remove some or all of the suspicious tissue and examine it under a microscope to check for cancerous cells. Dermatologists also see people who are being treated for other cancers and experiencing skin side effects due to their medication.
3. Eczema. This chronic skin condition is characterized by irritation, itchiness, and flaky patches of skin, according to the AAD. A dermatologist can help find ways to manage your eczema and prescribe any necessary treatment.
4. Skin damage. If you are concerned about minimizing skin damage or caring for aging skin, a dermatologist can suggest products or lifestyle changes that reduce your exposure to damaging elements.
5. Specialized care of skin, hair, and nails. You can talk to a dermatologist regarding any concerns you have about almost any condition that affects your appearance, according to the AAD. For example, skin conditions ranging from discolorations, to warts, to stretch marks, to psoriasis can all be treated by a dermatologist.
6. Scar treatment. Dermatologists can offer skin treatments to improve the look of almost any scar, including acne scars and keloid (raised) scars, according to the AAD. A dermatologist may refer you to a plastic surgeon for enhanced treatment of more serious scars, such as those due to burns.
Treating Acne Scars
Most of the time, those reddish or brownish acne marks that are left behind after pimples clear up will fade with no need for treatment. Picking or squeezing acne can increase the risk for scarring, though.
Acne scars take two forms:
- scars with a gradual dip or depression (sometimes called “rolling” scars)
- scars that are deep and narrow
A person’s acne needs to be under control before scars can be treated.
Mild vs. Severe Scarring
Treatments depend on how severe the scars are. In some cases, a doctor or dermatologist may suggest a chemical peel or microdermabrasion to help improve the appearance of scarred areas. These milder treatments can be done right in the office.
For serious scarring from previous bouts with acne, several types of treatment can help:
- Laser resurfacing. This procedure can be done in the doctor’s or dermatologist’s office. The laser removes the damaged top layer of skin and tightens the middle layer, leaving skin smoother. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. The doctor will try to lessen any pain by first numbing the skin with local anesthesia. It usually takes between 3 and 10 days for the skin to heal completely.
- Dermabrasion. This treatment uses a rotating wire brush or spinning diamond instrument to wear down the surface of the skin. As the skin heals, a new, smoother layer replaces the abraded skin. It may take a bit longer for skin to heal using dermabrasion — usually between 10 days and 3 weeks.
- Fractional laser therapy. This type of treatment works at a deeper level than laser resurfacing or dermabrasion, Because fractional laser therapy doesn’t wound the top layer of tissue, healing time is shorter. Someone who has had this type of treatment may just look a bit sunburned for a couple of days.
For “rolling” scars, doctors sometimes inject material under the scar to raise it to the level of normal skin. Finally, in some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove deeply indented scars.
One thing you shouldn’t do to deal with acne scars is load up your face with masks or fancy lotions — these won’t help and may irritate your skin further, making the scars red and even more noticeable.
If you have a red or brownish mark on your face that you got from a bad zit, it should eventually fade. However, it may take 12 months or longer. If you’re upset about acne marks, talk to your doctor, who might have advice on what you can do.
How do dermatologists treat hair loss?
Just as there are many causes, there are many treatments for hair loss. Dermatologists recommend treating hair loss early. Early means before you lose a lot of hair. Hair loss is harder to treat when a person has a lot of hair loss.
One or more of the following treatments may be part of your treatment plan.
Treatment available without a prescription
- Minoxidil: This medicine is applied to the scalp. It can stop hairs from getting thinner and stimulate hair growth on the top of the scalp. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved minoxidil to treat hair loss. It is the only hair re-growth product approved for men and women. A dermatologist may combine minoxidil with another treatment.
- Laser devices: Brushes, combs, and other hand-held devices that emit laser light might stimulate hair growth. These devices might make hair look more youthful in some people. Because the FDA classifies these products as medical devices, the products do not undergo the rigorous testing that medicines undergo. The long-term effectiveness and safety for these devices are not known.
The type of procedure that a dermatologist recommends will depend on how much hair you have lost. To achieve the best results, a dermatologist may use one or more of the following procedures:
- Hair transplantation: Skin on the scalp that has good hair growth is removed and transplanted to areas of the scalp that need hair.
- Scalp reduction:B Bald scalp is surgically removed and hair-bearing scalp is brought closer together to reduce balding. Scalp reduction surgery can be performed alone or in conjunction with a hair transplant.
- Scalp expansion: Devices are inserted under the scalp for about 3 to 4 weeks to stretch the skin. This procedure may be performed before a scalp reduction to make the scalp more lax. It also can be performed solely to stretch hair-bearing areas, which reduces balding.
- Scalp flaps: A hair-bearing segment of scalp is surgically moved and placed where hair is needed.
Once your dermatologist knows what is causing the hair loss, your dermatologist can tell you what to expect. Sometimes hair loss does not need treatment. The hair will start to re-grow on its own. In some cases, changing what you do will stop the hair loss, allowing your hair to start re-growing. Sometimes treatment can restore hair.