What Is a Dermatologist and When Should I See One?

What is a Dermatologist

A board certified dermatologist is a medical doctor specializing in treating diseases of the skin, nails, hair, and mucous membranes. Dermatologists are skin experts, treating conditions of the largest organ in the body. They recognize that skin problems often reflect other health conditions. They are also experts in treating hair and nail diseases and in treating cosmetic issues like scars.

Your skin can protect you from the cold and heat, and from dangerous substances and germs, as well. Your skin can also be an indicator of your overall health level.

Dermatologists understand that your dermatological health affects how you look and feel. They offer cosmetic services like skin rejuvenation procedures, acne scar treatments, stretch mark treatments, and other treatments for skin issues.

Your dermatologist knows the difference between something benign and something more serious.  This is why, it’s important to schedule regular skin exams.

Common Problems

Dermatologists can help treat many different conditions, from mild to severe. They can offer treatment for cosmetic worries and for skin cancer, offering surgical procedures and other, less invasive, options.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells that occurs when your skin cells’ DNA mutates. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and melanomas.

Symptoms of skin cancer include:

  • A new spot on the skin
  • Changes in size, color, or shape of an existing spot
  • Red or scaly skin patches
  • A non-healing sore that bleeds
  • Itchy or painful spots
  • A growth with a raised border, wart-like growths, and scar-like growths

The treatment of skin cancer can depend on the type. First, a dermatologist will perform a skin biopsy to determine the type of cancer. Once they have an accurate diagnosis, they can decide the best way to treat the lesion. Some lesions can be frozen with liquid nitrogen. Excisional surgery is another treatment option. This involves cutting off the cancerous tissues and/or skin lesions. Skin biopsies are a critical part of finding and treating skin cancer.

Mohs surgery can help with larger and more difficult types of skin cancers. It is especially helpful in areas where preserving as much skin as possible is essential.

Other treatments for skin cancers include radiation and chemotherapy.

Stubborn acne

Acne is a skin disease in which oil clogs hair follicles under the skin. Chronic acne occurs when pimples and inflammation last longer than six to eight weeks.

For mild to moderate stubborn acne, some acne treatments include the use of retinoid creams. Isotretinoin is another medication that helps with more severe acne cases.  These skin issues usually respond well to a dermatologist’s care.

Itchy hives or rashes that won’t go away

A release of histamine in the body can lead to hives or rashes. This can occur as a reaction to food, infections, skin bites, and more. Heat rashes can develop when your sweat glands become clogged, leading to inflammation and red, itchy bumps.

Hives and rashes can:

  • Be any shape or size
  • Appear anywhere on the body
  • Look pink or red
  • Feel itchy
  • Sting or burn

A dermatologist can prescribe medicated creams or other topical ointments to help reduce symptoms.

Scars from acne, blemishes, cuts, and scrapes

When acne creates inflammation under the skin, this can lead to skin tissue trauma. As a result, scars are formed because your skin’s response to acne is to heal the area by creating more collagen fibers.

Cuts and scrapes can also cause scars—for the same reason.

Treating scars from blemishes, acne, or cuts and scrapes can require procedures like microdermabrasion or chemical peels.

Laser therapy is also an excellent treatment option. Lasers deliver focused heat to the scarred tissue, dissolving the collagen creating the scar and encouraging new collagen to grow.

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

Eczema is a lifelong condition that causes irritation and inflammation of the skin. The most common symptoms are:

  • Red, dry skin patches
  • Thickening and hardening of the skin
  • Rashes that bleed, ooze, or release a clear fluid
  • Itchy rash

Topical or oral steroids are prescription medications that are good treatment options. And therapy that uses ultraviolet light can also help reduce symptoms.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that creates flaky patches of skin that become scales. It is an autoimmune condition that causes symptoms like:

  • Cracked, dry skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Joint pain
  • Skin pain
  • Cracked, crumbly, or pitted nails

Steroid creams and other medicated topical solutions can help in managing the symptoms of psoriasis. There are more aggressive treatment options for patients with severe disease.

Rosacea

Rosacea is a skin condition that causes redness in the nose, forehead, chin, and cheeks. The symptoms of rosacea are:

  • Flushing
  • Persistent facial redness
  • Bumps and pimples
  • Visible blood vessels
  • Burning or stinging
  • Eye irritation
  • Swelling
  • Skin plaque

Dermatologists offer both topical and oral medications to reduce the symptoms.

Moles and other skin growths

A mole is a skin growth that develops when the cells that create pigment, melanocytes, grow in groups. In most cases, moles are benign and cause no symptoms, but some may still convert to melanoma.  It is important to notice if your moles are changing or growing. Mole removal can be done by a few different methods, including surgical excision, depending on the size and location.

Ingrown nails and other nail disorders

There are many types of nail disorders, including:

  • Discoloration
  • Clubbing, spooning, and pitting
  • Leukonychia
  • Nail separation
  • Yellow nail syndrome
  • Ingrown nails

To determine the treatment option for each condition, we rely on inspecting samples at the molecular and microscopic levels.

Hair loss

Hair loss, or alopecia, can occur for many reasons. Hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies, infections, and skin diseases can all cause hair loss. The dermatologist may perform a scalp biopsy or ask you to take a blood test. This helps to determine the cause and which treatment plans to offer.

Cosmetic surgery

Most dermatologists also offer cosmetic treatments, including Botox and fillers. They also treat aging skin, sunspots, the skin’s appearance, and the removal of moles and other growths. Cosmetic procedures are considered optional.

The Importance of Regular Skin Exams

Regular skin exams allow dermatologists to catch skin disorders before they advance. Once you identify symptoms, it is time for an office visit with your dermatologist. Early detection is key when it comes to skin cancer, as it can be an aggressive disease. When you identify the signs of skin cancer at the earliest stages, you can receive a prompt diagnosis and treatment. This kind of disease control is crucial to your ongoing health.

Whether you are suffering from skin cancer, hair or nail problems, or other skin conditions, your dermatologist can diagnose your issue. These medical doctors have extensive training to treat a wide array of skin issues.

Let Dr. Hall Help You

Dr. Felicia Hall, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist who completed her dermatological residency at the University of South Florida. She has received extensive specialized training in the field of dermatology. Dr. Hall worked in private practice in San Francisco for over 13 years before returning to Florida. She belongs to the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Medical Association, and the American Society of Mohs Surgery.

Let Dr. Hall help you with your dermatological concerns today!

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