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Dermatologists: When is the best time to see one?

Don’t wait until you have a pressing skin concern to talk to an expert!

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Woman Receiving a Medical Exam
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

When it comes to medical concerns, it can become confusing to know which specialist to see and when. Oftentimes, a primary care provider tends to be the first port of call for most conditions. 

When you see an issue with your skin, specifically, you might not know if your general care practitioner is the best person to talk to—or if it’s time to seek out a skincare pro. It doesn’t have to be hard finding a dermatology expert, either. Curology offers access to licensed dermatology providers who specialize in personalized skincare solutions for acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. For certain skin-related questions or concerns, this is a convenient option if you are in need of an appointment without even having to leave your house!

A dermatologist or dermatology provider can help you when you’re facing a specific skin concern—but we believe that you shouldn’t wait until you have an urgent issue to work with a medical expert! Here’s everything you need to know about seeing a dermatologist or dermatology provider, and why it’s a good idea to do so. 

Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat many of the conditions mentioned in this article. This article is for information purposes.

When to see a dermatologist

Dermatologists are board-certified medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating over 3,000 diseases of the skin.¹ So, when you detect abnormalities in your skin, they would be the specialists to turn to. And for many skin conditions, early detection is key!² Melanoma, for example, has a 99% survival rate when caught early.³ But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has concluded that you don’t necessarily need to have a clinical skin cancer screening if you have no symptoms, unless you have a family history, a genetic predisposition, a relevant past medical history, or fair skin with a history of sun exposure.⁴ So, those with these risk factors should be screened regularly. Case in point: For adults age 18 or older with fair skin, a total body skin examination can be considered for their first wellness exam before reaching the age of 35.⁵ Generally speaking, we recommend consulting with your dermatologist to see what screening interval is most appropriate for you. 

What to expect the first time you see a dermatologist 

As with most new appointments, you should arrive ready to fill out new patient paperwork. This will generally consist of your personal medical history, past surgeries, any medications you are taking, as well as your family medical history. 

This information will help your dermatology provider determine your potential risk for skin cancers or other skin conditions. 

If you have time before your appointment, perform a skin self-assessment.⁶ Do you have any lesions, rashes, or moles you want to discuss during your appointment? Here are several other tips to consider as you prepare for your visit:

  • Go without makeup (or bring makeup remover). This will help the provider in their full body skin assessment.

  • Remove any nail polish. Your nails are part of the integumentary system (aka the outermost layer of your body), which will also be assessed.

  • Wear hair down or in a way that’s easier to assess the scalp (yes, skin cancers can form there, too!)

  • Come prepared with questions.

High risk patients, especially those with a history of skin cancer, immunosuppression, indoor tanning, or recurrent sunburns, would benefit the most from at least an annual total-body skin exam.⁷ But even among the general population, a study of 483 patients has found that a complete skin examination has the potential to save lives from skin cancer.⁸ Early detection is key to achieving a good outcome, so visit your dermatology provider to protect your health. 

What conditions should I watch out for?

Studies show that the top three reasons people visit a dermatologist are skin lesions, skin discoloration, or basic skin examinations. Some of the most popular recommended reasons to see a licensed dermatology provider include:⁹

Acne vulgaris

As one of the most common skin conditions, acne often starts during the teen years and can continue well into adulthood. Acne presents primarily on the face but can occur in other body areas such as the back and chest. 

These lesions can be inflammatory or non-inflammatory. There are many factors known to contribute to acne, therefore making it challenging to treat at times. Some causes include:

  • Genetic factors

  • Certain medications

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

  • Pregnancy¹⁰

Rashes

A rash is another common reason for people to seek the expertise of a dermatologist. Rashes can be hard to diagnose as there are many variations regarding appearance and cause. Some may be caused by minor irritation to the skin, or may appear due to an allergy or illness. Skin rashes can appear in a localized area or spread all over the body, and they can cause discomfort, pain, or itching. Additionally, rashes can vary in shape, size, and color.

According to dermatologists, some of the most common reasons to seek medical attention due to rashes include:¹¹ 

  • Rash covering the entire body

  • A fever accompanying the rash

  • Rash that appears quickly and spreads rapidly

  • Blisters begin to form with the rash

  • Pain is experienced with a rash

  • Rash lesions become infected

Skin discolorations

Skin discoloration is a prime example of a condition that requires consultation with a dermatologist. Types of skin discoloration may include melasma, sun spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. A licensed dermatology provider can assess and present you with the appropriate treatment options for your situation. Skin discolorations may appear localized or in diffuse patterns, and can be caused by inflammation, medications, metabolic conditions, infections, autoimmune conditions, or cancer.¹² 

Moles and other skin lesions

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can be aggressive and difficult to treat if not caught early. This form of skin cancer has become the fifth most common in the U.S. and is usually caused by pigment-producing cells undergoing genetic mutations.¹³ 

Used as a general tool, the ABCDE method, as expanded on below, helps guide healthcare providers on properly assessing skin lesions, along with skin biopsies when necessary.¹⁴

  • A: Asymmetry

  • B: Border irregularity

  • C: Color variation

  • D: Diameter

  • E: Evolution

If you notice any new skin spots or lesions, it is important to make an appointment with a dermatologist. 

Increased hair shedding

There are many reasons people lose their hair, so before seeking out treatment options, the first step should be to see a licensed dermatology provider. We naturally shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day,¹⁵ but if you notice excessive hair loss, it could be a sign of a medical condition. For example, women who are pregnant or postpartum may lose more hair than normal. Other potential reasons for hair loss may include infection or hormonal imbalance.¹⁶ 

 Dermatologist recommended skin health tips

  • Conduct a monthly skin self-assessment.

    • Total body examination (TBE) is recommended for early detection of abnormal skin lesions, conditions, and even skin cancers. Lesion-directed screening (LDS) is also a beneficial option.¹⁷ 

    • Early detection is the best prevention for skin cancer, though most screening measures focus more on high-risk individuals versus everyone as a whole.¹⁸ 

  • Use SPF daily

    • Use broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection with an SPF rating of 30 or above, and is water resistant.¹⁹

  • Avoid UV exposure, which is the cause of most melanoma cases.

    • Sunburns as a child or an adolescent can increase the risk of melanoma later in life.

    • Did you know, having more than five blistering sunburns when you’re between 15 and 20 years of age increases your risk of melanoma by 80%?²⁰

  • Avoid tanning beds.

    • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is known to cause cancer

    • Tanning bed UV radiation can be 10-15% higher than that of the sun.²¹ 

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FAQs

When should I start seeing a dermatologist?

It is recommended to establish a baseline with a dermatologist fairly early in life. This initial visit will allow a licensed dermatology provider to complete a full-body skin assessment. This will enable the provider to identify spots or lesions that already exist, and also identify any suspicious ones.

Hopefully, if any abnormalities are found, they will be detected early. However, if other skin concerns are identified later, you and your provider will have a baseline to know that they were not present initially.

What happens the first time you go to the dermatologist?

You will provide a thorough medical history for yourself, including surgeries, health conditions, and medications. You will also most likely be asked to provide any pertinent family history (to help determine genetic risk factors). On this initial visit, you can also expect a full-body skin assessment.

Should everyone see a dermatologist?

Yes, whether it is a dermatologist or licensed dermatology provider (such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant trained on dermatological skin conditions), everyone should get care established. A baseline initial appointment is recommended, followed by annual skin checks.

Should I see a dermatologist for rosacea?

Absolutely! A dermatology provider can provide you with advice on how to manage this chronic condition.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What is a Dermatologist? (2022, October 5).

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What is a Dermatologist? Ibid.

  3. Saginala, K., et al. Epidemiology of Melanoma. Med Sci (Basel). (2021, October 20).

  4. Saginala, K., et al. Epidemiology of Melanoma. Med Sci (Basel). Ibid.

  5. Johnson, M.M., et al. Skin cancer screening: recommendations for data-driven screening guidelines and a review of the US Preventive Services Task Force controversy. Melanoma Management. (2017, March 1).

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Detect Skin Cancer: How to Perform a Skin Self-Exam. (n.d.).

  7. Rosamilia, L.L. The Naked Truth about Total Body Skin Examination: A Lesson from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2019, November 13).

  8. Moran, B., et al. Complete skin examination is essential in the assessment of dermatology patients: findings from 483 patients. Br J Dermatol. (November 2011).

  9. Rosenberg, J. Skin Examination Top Reason for Visiting Dermatologist, Study Says. AJMC. (2022, March 25).

  10. Sutaria, A.H., et al. Acne Vulgaris. StatPearls. (2023, February 16).

  11. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Rash 101 in Adults: When to seek Medical Attention. (n.d.).

  12. Desai, S.R. Hyperpigmentation Therapy: A Review. (August 2014).

  13. Bhattacharya, A., et al. Precision Diagnosis of Melanoma and Other Skin Lesions From Digital Images. AMIA Jt Summits Transl Sci Proc. (2017, July 26).

  14. Bhattacharya, A., et al. Precision Diagnosis of Melanoma and Other Skin Lesions From Digital Images. AMIA Jt Summits Transl Sci Proc. Ibid.

  15. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hair Loss: Overview. (n.d.).

  16. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hair Loss: Who Gets and Causes. (n.d.).

  17. Hoorens, I., et al. Total-Body Examination vs Lesion-Directed Skin Cancer Screening. JAMA Dermatology. (January 2016).

  18. Hoorens, I., et al. Total-Body Examination vs Lesion-Directed Skin Cancer Screening. JAMA Dermatology. Ibid.

  19. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, February 17).

  20. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Skin Cancer. (2022, April 22).

  21. Le Clair, M.Z. and Cockburn, M.G. Tanning bed use and melanoma: Establishing risk and improving prevention interventions. (2016, January 14).

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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