Dermatologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the skin, hair, nails and mucus membrane. Some dermatologists are also surgeons.

What is a dermatologist?

Your skin is your largest, heaviest organ, and it has many important functions. It protects you from heat, cold, germs and dangerous substances. It’s also a great indicator of your overall health — changes in the color or feel of your skin can be a sign of a medical problem. It’s important to take proper care of your skin and be aware of its overall health.

A dermatologist is a doctor who has expertise in the care of:

  • Skin.
  • Hair.
  • Nails.

They’re experts in diagnosing and treating skin, hair and nail diseases, and they can manage cosmetic disorders, including hair loss and scars.


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What do dermatologists do?

Dermatologists diagnose and treat skin conditions. They also recognize symptoms that appear on your skin which may indicate problems inside your body, like organ disease or failure.

Dermatologists often perform specialized diagnostic procedures related to skin conditions. They use treatments including:

  • Externally applied or injected medicines.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light therapy.
  • A range of dermatologic surgical procedures, such as mole removal and skin biopsies.
  • Cosmetic procedures, such as chemical peels, sclerotherapy and laser treatments.

What training and qualifications do dermatologists have?

To become a dermatologist, doctors must complete:

  • Four years of college.
  • Four years of medical school.
  • One year of an internship (training in dermatology and other fields).
  • Three years of residency (continued training concentrating on the field of dermatology).
  • One to two years of a fellowship. A fellowship isn’t mandatory, but it offers additional training in a dermatology subspecialty.
  • Licensing/certification. In the United States, dermatologists must obtain a license to practice medicine and pass a board certification exam offered by the American Board of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.


What are common conditions that dermatologists treat?

Some of the most common conditions a dermatologist may treat include:

What types of procedures do dermatologists perform?

Common procedures include:

  • Electrosurgery: Electrosurgery involves the surgical use of a high-frequency electric current to cut or destroy tissue.
  • Cryosurgery: Cryosurgery involves the surgical use of extreme cold to freeze and destroy tissue.
  • Laser surgery: Laser surgery involves the surgical use of special light beams.
  • Excision surgery: Excision surgery involves using a sharp knife (scalpel) to excise (remove by cutting) tissue with appropriate closures.
  • Mohs surgery: Mohs surgery is a surgical technique that involves a layer-by-layer removal of cancer cells from your skin.
  • Mole removal: A mole removal involves the partial or total removal of a mole from your body. They study the mole for cancer or other skin diseases.
  • Vein treatment: After evaluating your damaged veins, dermatologists may treat them with sclerotherapy or laser treatments.


What are some dermatology subspecialty fields?

Some dermatology subspecialty fields include:

  • Dermatopathology.
  • Mohs surgery.
  • Pediatric dermatology.
  • Cosmetic dermatology.

What is the difference between dermatologists and estheticians?

Estheticians aren’t medical doctors. They can’t diagnose skin disorders or prescribe medications. They can only help with treatments that affect the appearance of your skin. Some esthetician procedures include:

  • Scrubbing (exfoliating) skin.
  • Teaching how to use makeup to conceal scarring.
  • Applying acne treatments.
  • Suggesting skin care products.
  • Waxing.
  • Airbrush tanning.

When should I make an appointment with a dermatologist?

Some of the more common symptoms for which you may want to see a dermatologist include:

  • A patch of skin or a mole has changed in size, color or shape.
  • Skin cancer.
  • Severe or persistent acne.
  • Rash.
  • Hives.
  • Scars.
  • Eczema.
  • Psoriasis.
  • Rosacea.
  • Dark spots on your face (hyperpigmentation).
  • Long-lasting skin irritation.
  • Infections.
  • Warts.
  • Hair loss.
  • Nail disorders.
  • Signs of aging.
  • Varicose and spider veins.

How should I prepare for my first dermatologist appointment?

To get the most out of your first dermatologist appointment, it’s helpful to prepare. You can:

  • Bring a list of the most important issues you want to discuss with your dermatologist.
  • Note any changes in your overall health.
  • Keep a symptom diary (and bring it with you) and record your events, including the day and time they occurred, how long the event lasted, severity, triggers, symptoms and any action you took to end the event. Bring clear photos, if possible.
  • Learn about your family medical history. This information can help your dermatologist make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Wear loose clothing so your dermatologist can easily perform an examination.
  • Avoid wearing makeup or nail polish. Wearing makeup or nail polish may make it difficult for your dermatologist to examine your skin or nails properly.
  • Consider using a washable pen to circle spots on your body. Physical reminders help you remember what to mention to your dermatologist.
  • Bring copies of test results, including images and lab work ordered by other healthcare providers outside your dermatologist’s healthcare network.
  • Bring a list of all current products you take or use. Include prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, supplements, herbal products, soaps, makeup and sunscreens. Also, let your dermatologist know about any previous medications that didn’t work or caused side effects.
  • Bring a list of your known allergies.
  • Bring a friend or relative with you to take notes and be another set of ears and eyes to the appointment. This person can help review your dermatologist’s discussion, ask questions and remind you about scheduling tests and follow-up appointments.
  • Ask if you should schedule another appointment to discuss any additional concerns.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dermatologists are medical doctors who specialize in skin, hair and nails. Dermatologists also handle cosmetic disorders, like hair loss and scars. Your dermatologist will examine you, order lab tests, make a diagnosis and treat your condition with medication or a procedure. They may refer you to and work together with another specialist, if appropriate. Before your appointment, prepare notes and organize your health information. Be sure to ask any questions that come to mind. Your dermatologist wants to help you diagnose your condition, treat or manage it in the best way possible and support you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 10/13/2021.

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