What Is Dermatology?

Dermatology is a branch of medicine that focuses on treating skin, hair, and nails. You might see a dermatologist for a yearly skin cancer check, or you may see one more regularly if you have a condition such as acne or psoriasis.

Read on to learn more about what dermatologists do and the training they receive, as well as when to book an appointment with one.

Using dermatoscope to check for skin cancer on the scalp

AndreyPopov / iStock / Getty Images

What Do Dermatologists Do?

Dermatologists are medical doctors (MDs) who treat the skin, the largest organ in your body. They also treat conditions that affect the nails and hair. Dermatologists treat more than 3,000 conditions, including:

How Are Dermatologists Trained?

Dermatologists get a bachelor’s degree (four-year degree). Then, they go to medical school, which takes another four years. After they graduate from medical school, they do an internship for one year and then a residency for at least three more years. That’s 12 years of schooling in all. 

Dermatologists then take an exam to become board certified. Passing this exam shows that the dermatologist is an expert in skin, hair, and nail care. Board certified dermatologists will use the letters "FAAD" in their credentials, which means "Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology."

How Common Is Skin Disease?

About one-third of Americans suffer from skin diseases at any given time. These include cosmetic conditions, such as acne or birthmarks that can affect your self-confidence, or more serious diseases like skin cancer.

What Are the Most Common Skin Disorders?

These are the top reasons people see dermatologists:

  • Acne: Acne is the most common skin condition, affecting 85% of people at some point during their lives (primarily in the teen years).
  • Eczema: Eczema is a chronic skin condition that affects 10% of people. It causes an itchy rash that can interrupt sleep and make people feel self-conscious. 
  • Hair loss: Hair loss, most commonly caused by a condition known as androgenetic alopecia, affects about half of men over age 50. It can also affect women, especially after menopause
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis affects about 3% of Americans. It’s an inflammatory disease that causes a dry, itchy rash with plaques or scales. 
  • Skin cancer: Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, affecting about 20% of Americans during their lifetime. 

When to See a Dermatologist

You should see a dermatologist if you have a skin, hair, or nail condition that isn’t going away or hasn’t responded to treatments from your primary care provider. Some reasons to see a dermatologist are:

  • Acne that won’t clear up with a good skin care routine
  • A mole or birthmark that changes shape, or a sore that won’t heal
  • Persistent or recurring skin infections, dry skin, or itchiness
  • Hair loss
  • Infections or discoloration in your nails
  • Scars that bother you or impact your self-esteem


A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating skin, hair, and nails. Dermatologists complete 12 years of schooling after high school. They are equipped to handle both common and rare conditions including acne and skin cancer. 

A Word From Verywell 

Having healthy skin, hair, and nails is about more than looking good: It’s an important indication of your overall health. If you have a skin, hair, or nail concern, don’t hesitate to see a dermatologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between a skin specialist and a dermatologist?

    A dermatologist is a medical doctor who trains for at least eight years after getting a bachelor's degree. A dermatologist is a skin specialist. However, some aestheticians—technicians who do cosmetic skin procedures like facials—also call themselves skin specialists. Aestheticians are licensed and complete up to 3,000 hours of training, but they do not have medical training. If you have a serious skin condition like acne or eczema, you should see a dermatologist.

  • What is cosmetic dermatology?

    Cosmetic dermatology focuses on aesthetic issues. For example, a cosmetic dermatologist might do treatments to firm the skin, hide the appearance of veins, or reduce wrinkles.

  • How often should you see a dermatologist?

    If you don’t have a skin, hair, or nail problem, you don’t necessarily need to see a dermatologist; your primary care physician can perform your annual skin checks. However, if you’re managing a condition like acne or psoriasis, you should see your dermatologist regularly. They’ll let you know how often to make appointments in order to receive the best care.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology. What is a dermatologist?

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health. Skin conditions at a glance.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin conditions by the numbers

  4. University of Utah. When should you see a dermatologist? 

  5. Connecticut State Department of Public Health. Esthetician Licensing.

  6. Dartmouth Health. Cosmetic dermatology

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.