From your minor brush with acne to serious conditions like skin cancer, dermatologists treat all the conditions involving your body’s largest organ—your skin. Typically, they’re the ones who peel back your paper gown to examine what lies beneath. But this time, we asked them to bare it all and reveal the secrets of great skin health.
Take some time to jot down your top concerns and any details you can recall about them. For instance, if you’re seeing the dermatologist about a particular spot or rash, list how long you’ve had it, what the first symptoms were like, and how it’s changed over time. “Oftentimes, the history you give us can help us rule out certain causes of rashes and hone in on a more accurate diagnosis,” says dermatologist Omar Ibrahimi, MD, PhD.
Too much washing, scrubbing, exfoliating, or product use can destroy your skin’s natural protections against damage, says dermatologist Jessica Krant, MD, MPH. “Overdrying, overstripping and overscrubbing start to create a cycle of inflammation, redness, dryness, flaking, rashes and breakouts that we then use more products to try to fix,” she says. “With the skin, less can be a lot more.”
Many skin issues can be resolved with treatment—but don’t expect it to work overnight, says dermatologist Dina Strachan, MD. Whether the solution involves topical treatments, medication, or lifestyle changes, you might not see immediate results. Give the therapy your doctor recommends a few days or weeks to take effect, and use it as directed. “Some people come in complaining that something didn't work, and they didn't really try it. This delays their care.”
Look for an MD or DO who’s board certified in dermatology, meaning he or she has undergone special training and testing to diagnose and treat skin conditions. Ask about the doctor’s experience managing the types of concerns you have. Also, check into whether he or she has hospital privileges or an academic appointment—both signs of a qualified specialist, Dr. Strachan says.
Almost every health condition can show on your skin, including diabetes, thyroid issues, autoimmune diseases, or even just stress and poor sleep. Your dermatologist can evaluate your skin issue and advise you on the possibilities. “Ask what else could be causing it internally, and if you should see your primary care doctor or another specialist as well,” Dr. Krant says.
You might think your only symptom is the rash on your arm, but your doctor might spot warning signs elsewhere on your body—even lesions that could be potential skin cancers. “It will be far more efficient for you to change into a gown and be thoroughly examined, rather than trying to lift up your shirt or pants to examine area by area,” Dr. Ibrahimi says.
“Doctors think differently than the average person,” says dermatologist Susan Taylor, MD. Don’t fret if you haven’t shaved, gotten a pedicure, or colored your hair, or even if you have your period shortly before an examination of your groin area. “I always tell patients I don't even notice those things. I am looking right past them and only focusing on the actual issue on the skin,” Dr. Krant says.
Layers of makeup can obscure your skin, Dr. Krant points out. If your concerns involve your fingertips or nails, remove nail polish. “Finally, scalp and hair problems can be complex and difficult to figure out, even with a clean head of available hair to examine,” she says. “But arriving with extensions or weaves in place, or a complex hairstyle you don’t want to remove, makes it hard for us to help.”
Gather up all your current and previous skin products into a bag and bring them to your appointment, Dr. Krant advises. Also, write down a list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take. “These two projects will help us fill in a lot of gaps in terms of figuring out what the problem is, or what you have that’s already useful and that you may be able to save money with,” she says.
Men may be hesitant to express concerns about their appearance, but many minor treatments are not gender-specific. “The truth of the matter is that there are many cosmetic procedures that are as beneficial to men as they are to women,” Dr. Ibrahimi says. If aging gracefully is your primary concern, seek out a dermatologist with experience in laser and cosmetic techniques.
If you don’t have a good rapport with one dermatologist, it’s OK to try someone else, Dr. Krant says. However, once you find a doctor you trust, try to stick with them. “If we don't see the follow-up, or response to our suggested treatments, we aren't able to adjust to the best plan for you,” she says. “This pattern could repeat and repeat, if your case is a little trickier.”
Some skin spots are benign, while others are signs of the dea