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When Should You Really See a Dermatologist?

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, so while you may never see some specialists, like a nephrologist, you definitely should find yourself a reliable dermatologist. Dermatologists treat skin, hair and nail problems. Even if you’ve never had a run-in with acne, warts or hair loss, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends everyone get an annual skin screening to rule out skin cancer, the most common type of cancer affecting Americans. 

Other issues warrant a visit that you may not even know about. We asked the experts when you should consider heading to a derm


How often should you go in for skin checks?

Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, suggests getting established with a dermatologist in your early to mid-twenties. If you’re older than that and haven’t ever seen a provider, now is still the perfect time.

“Go in, get a skin check and talk to them about any concerns,” Piliang says. “They can educate you about sun protection and how to do self–skin exams to prevent skin cancer.” She recommends checking your own skin once a month, because most skin cancers are found by patients or their family members.

At that first appointment, your derm can offer guidance about how often they want to see you. If skin cancer runs in your family, you work a job where you’re outside a lot or you go tanning, your doc might want to see you more frequently to check your skin for signs of cancer. 

Otherwise, it’s generally OK to get your skin looked at once a year. (Your primary care provider should also check your skin at physicals, but dermatologists are usually more thorough.)

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When should you see a dermatologist for a problem?

Along with helping you protect your skin, hair and nails, dermatologists treat any additional problems that might arise. 

If you notice a new or changing spot on your skin, like a pimple that won’t go away, a scaly plaque or an abnormal mole, it’s a good idea to see an expert who can rule out potentially serious issues. Rashes that won’t go away or that cover more than 10 percent of your body should also be addressed by a dermatologist.

Keep an eye out for changes in your nails and skin too. Thickened or yellow nails or red and inflamed cuticles can be signs of medical conditions that need to be addressed by a specialist. Certain diseases, like some autoimmune disorders, can also cause hair loss, so that’s another good cue to see a dermatologist.

Derms can help treat cosmetic issues too. If you have deep, painful acne but over-the-counter treatments aren’t solving the problem, a dermatologist can recommend a topical treatment or a medication, like an antibiotic. 


What skin problems can you treat at home?

If you have acne, it’s reasonable to start with over-the-counter cleansers or other products. Your primary care provider can also help treat your acne if it’s mild. Bug bites or mild rashes that feel itchy but haven’t been there very long and don’t cover more than 10 percent of your body can also be dealt with over-the-counter products, like anti-itch creams. 

If you’re not sure about something and you don’t have a relationship with a dermatologist, your primary care provider is a good starting point. “That provider may be able to help you decide if you need to see a dermatologist and even help you get in sooner if there’s a concern,” says Piliang. 


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The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.