One of the major plot points in the story of becoming an adult is swapping your guardian-approved pediatrician for a general practitioner. Eventually, you recognize the need for a primary care physician and, despite dreading making your own doctor’s appointments, you oblige.
So why not see one for the outside, too? We mean your skin, of course. And like finding your own GP, choosing the right dermatologist doesn’t come naturally.
Without a pressing reason like skin allergies as a child, dermatology is often an afterthought — but it definitely shouldn’t be.
From routine skin cancer screenings to hormonal acne treatment (which is something women from ages of 20 to 29 to 40 to 49 encounter), your dermatologist can help with balancing your skin health — or at least, the right one will, which is why choosing the best person for the job is so important.
If you’ve never been to the dermatologist before but feel ready, able, and willing to take this step now, here are a few tips to get you started:
Chances are you have a concern you want to solve, but not every dermatologist is suitable.
Dermatologic care, like any other type of medical care, must be specific to your needs as a patient. This is a transactional service after all.
Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, a board-certified physician in dermatopathology, says you should start by asking yourself if your needs are:
- medical (e.g. cystic acne or rosacea)
- surgical (e.g. removal of a benign growth or nodular melanoma)
- cosmetic (e.g. facial sculpting)
They can even be all the above or a combo of two. For example, eye bag removal is both cosmetic and surgical.
Regardless, Dr. Mudgil says this self-assessment is essential because dermatology expertise is such a diverse medical field. “For instance, my practice focuses on cosmetic dermatology, medical dermatology, and skin pathology but I don’t perform skin cancer surgeries,” he explains.
Ideally, you should choose a dermatologist whose specialty most closely aligns with your needs. When in doubt, call the doctor’s office and ask if the dermatologist you’re likely to see is experienced in treating your specific areas of concern.
If they imply that they may not be right for you or that you require a specialty service they don’t offer, don’t be afraid to keep looking.
Your natural skin color affects your dermatology needs.
Dr. Saya Obayan, a board-certified clinical dermatologist who specializes in the care of skin, hair, and nail diseases, says, “If you are a person of color, the first thing to do would be to find someone who has experience treating skin of color.”
“I tend to notice that skin of color forms pigment very easily, so when a person with an olive skin tone or with a darker complexion is looking for a dermatologist, they should look for someone who is familiar [with] treating hyperpigmentation,” she reveals. “[Find someone] who will be able to treat underlying conditions as well as formulate a plan to treat the dark spots.”
If you can, Dr. Obayan suggests finding a dermatologist who has also published credible work on the topic.
You may be tempted by Instagram results, but not all skin is the same. Dark skin tones react differently and have a higher risk of excessive scarring or keloids. The risk goes up when the procedures are done by someone who lacks experience managing such complications.
And Dr. Obayan says it’s not just about skin, either.
A good dermatologist should be interested in your hair and scalp routine too, which is different for someone with type 3 or type 4 hair. All of these factors, as well as your medical history and lifestyle, are important when it comes to receiving optimal dermatologic care.
Will your current health insurance plan cover your dermatology costs or will you be paying out of pocket? The answer, which depends a lot on your reason for seeing a dermatologist, may significantly influence who you choose.
To get covered by your insurance, the dermatologist will first have to be in-network. You can often find in-network dermatologists online through your insurance’s website, or you can contact the dermatologist’s office directly to see if they’re contracted with your insurer.
Next, you’ll need to find out if your specific needs are covered.
For your insurance to cover something, it would have to be a medical or surgical need. While what insurance covers (and what it takes to get it covered) can vary by company, here’s a helpful guide:
|Service||Covered by insurance: Yes or No?|
|Skin cancer screening and treatment||✓|
|Infections and rashes||✓|
|Varicose vein treatment||✓|
|Port wine stain removal||✓|
You should know…
- Skin cancer screening and treatment: Doctors recommend skin cancer screenings at least once a year.
- Varicose vein treatment: Only if done to relieve symptoms caused by varicosities, including pain, swelling, and cramps in the legs.
- Botox: Dr. Mudgil notes that cosmetic procedures, like Botox and dermal fillers are never covered by insurance plans since these are considered elective procedures.
- Chemical peels: May be covered for treatment of actinic keratosis (pre-cancer) or in some cases of acne treatment.
Anyone who’s uninsured or who will be paying out of pocket should be upfront about this, asking about approximate costs and payment plan options available to them.
This is crucial when seeing any medical professional for the first time. Don’t overlook it.
Typically doctors will list their certification and credentials on their website. You can also verify a doctor’s board certification (which means they’ve been trained extensively and exclusively in dermatology) with the American Academy of Dermatology or the American Board of Dermatology.
The former also allows you to search by zip code for certified dermatologists in your area.
But don’t shy away from consults with physician assistants and nurse practitioners
Physician assistants and nurse practitioners are available in many dermatology offices alongside dermatologists and typically have several years of experience with treating skin concerns. They’re trained by the dermatologist to provide care.
Jennifer Winter, diplomate of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants, has spent the last 19 years working with board-certified dermatologists providing general and surgical care to patients.
“As long as the dermatologist is available for consultation, don’t shy away from PA and NP visits,” she says. “You may get an appointment [with them] much quicker than with the physician.”
By this point, you already know this person is professionally qualified. Now you need to know if they’re right for you.
Most doctors’ offices are searchable online and offer Google and Yelp reviews, as well as reviews on websites like HealthGrades.com, Vitals.com, and RateMDs.com, by former clients. But while credentials are a good way to verify qualifications, you ultimately want a practitioner who makes you feel good about being you.
Red flags should include anything that might be a deal breaker for you, for example:
- an unwelcoming office
- hostile bedside manner
- hidden fees
- non-specific treatments
- unsatisfactory results
- sales-driven behavior
Look at the online presence of the offices
- Winter tells us that each state maintains a database of actions that have been taken against physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners that might be worth reviewing. All you have to do is Google your state’s department of health and look for the disciplinary and administrative actions tab.
- If suggestions about changing your facial features makes you feel uncomfortable, you may also want to avoid offices that heavily market cosmetic surgeries on their website or social media.
And while reviews can shed light on these flags, keep in mind that medical reviews are risky business for two primary reasons.
Firstly, most patients who’ve had a positive or satisfactory experience have no real motivation to leave a review, unless such reviews are solicited by the dermatologist themselves. Someone who’s had a negative experience, on the other hand, is primed to air their grievances online and it’s often difficult for physicians to respond due to privacy protection laws.
The second more pertinent reason you should be careful when reading online reviews is that everyone has different levels of satisfaction and medical needs. If you can, identify reviews by people who are most like you.
Online reviews are helpful, but don’t discount a recommendation by a primary care physician, family member, or friend who knows you and your needs well, either.
Just because you’ve been to one appointment doesn’t mean you’re locked into this doctor-patient relationship forever.
Ask yourself a series of questions during and after your appointment:
- Did you feel heard?
- Were you able and encouraged to share all the information you think is important?
- Did the dermatologist examine you thoroughly?
- Were you able to ask — and did you understand the answers to — all of your questions?
- Did the dermatologist give you multiple treatment options, explaining the risks and success rate of each?
- And if necessary, were you able to schedule a follow-up appointment?
If the closest derm is too expensive for surface concerns, or your treatments are more cosmetic than disorder, think about seeing a licensed cosmetic or medical aesthetician.
These skin experts can often be more accessible than a dermatologist, especially for issues like mild acne and dry, dull, or damaged skin. Their approach is often more about maintenance and support and can help your skin by recommending a personalized routine, facials and peels, and other noninvasive procedures.
Sarah Nicole Payne, licensed aesthetician of nine years, says, “Aestheticians work with their clients in a personalized, in-depth way that many doctors don’t have the time to commit to.”
But she admits it’s not always one or the other.
“Let’s say your dermatologist prescribes you a medication that dries out your skin and possibly increases sensitivity. They may suggest a cleanser or facial cream to use while on your medication, but an aesthetician would be able to support your skin through the treatment with healing facials and education about how to care for your skin through the process.”
Whatever your decision when it comes to all things skin, your health is your responsibility and you owe it to yourself — and no one else — to do what’s best for you.
Sydnee Lyons is a freelance writer currently based in the Caribbean. She covers lifestyle, health, wellness, dating, and travel... except in December, when her time is exclusively dedicated to watching terrible holiday movies. Find her on Twitter or Instagram.