When to See a Dermatologist

Do you need a specialist for your skin condition?

There are different healthcare providers you can see if you have a skin condition, including your primary care physician, a nurse practitioner, or a physician's assistant. But, there are times when you are best served by seeing a dermatologist—a doctor who specializes in diseases of the skin, hair, and nails.

While dermatologists can treat uncomplicated skin conditions like acne or warts, they are crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of serious ones like scleroderma, cellulitis, and skin cancer. Knowing when seeing a dermatologist is a "must" can help you get to the bottom of a condition quicker and access the correct treatment faster.

This article can help decide whether it's OK to see a primary care provider for a skin condition or if it's time to book an immediate appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.

Woman scratching her skin
The gluten rash is the itchiest rash possible. Maria Fuchs/Getty Images

When a Dermatologist May Not Be Necessary

A primary care physician, family doctor, or other healthcare provider is more than capable of handling certain skin conditions.

According to the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP), these include:

When Seeing a Dermatologist Is Best

As a general rule, a dermatologist should be sought if a skin condition is beyond the scope of expertise of a non-dermatology practitioner.

Dermatologists are trained to diagnose and treat over 3,000 different conditions affecting the skin, hair, or nails. You can see a dermatologist for any issue affecting these parts of the body, whether it is minor or significant.

Among some of the more common reasons why you should see a dermatologist:

Seeing a dermatologist is also advised if a condition is chronic and requires ongoing management, or if you're treating a skin condition without success.

Dermatologists can also monitor your skin if you are at risk of diseases like skin cancer.

Why See a Board-Certified Dermatologist?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Associations (AAD), there are clear advantages to working with a board-certified dermatologist:

  • They have completed medical school plus three to four years of advanced training—a total of 12,000 to 16,000 hours—studying diseases of the skin, hair, and nails.
  • They have passed rigorous exams in dermatology.
  • They have made a commitment to keeping up with the latest advances in dermatology.
  • They understand the interactions between the skin and the rest of the body.

This not only helps them reach a fast and accurate diagnosis, but provide effective treatment as soon as possible, which can reduce the risk of issues related to incorrect or delayed treatment (e.g., scarring, hair loss, or nail damage).

The letters "FAAD" in a doctor's list of credentials means that they are board certified and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology.

How to Find a Dermatologist

Most medical specialties have websites that list board-certified practitioners within your area. The American Academy of Dermatology Association allows you to locate dermatologists by name, zip code, or city/state.

There are also many websites that allow you to check a practitioner's credentials as well as read reviews from other patients. You can also contact your state's medical board to see if a provider has had any complaints or malpractice suits filed against them.

Finally, you can also ask your primary care physician family, friends, and colleagues for referrals. The best providers are usually well known in your area.

How to Communicate With Your Provider

When selecting a dermatologist, it is important to find one with whom you can communicate openly and comfortably. This includes asking them about their experience, training, and credentials.

Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • What experience have you had with this type of skin problem?
  • How many patients have you treated for this?
  • How urgent is it that I am treated now?
  • How long does the treatment last?
  • What are the results?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Are the results lasting, or is there a chance of recurrence?
  • What does the treatment cost?
  • Will my insurance cover the treatment, lab work, and other expenses?
  • What happens if the treatment fails?
  • What happens if I don't get treated?
  • Are there any alternative treatments I can consider?

If you are unsure of the response or simply need confirmation that a recommended treatment is the best course of action, do not hesitate to seek a second opinion. It is not only your right to do so but ensures that you have all the information needed to make an informed choice.

Summary

A dermatologist is a physician who has undergone specialized training in diseases of the skin, hair, and nails.

While other healthcare providers can treat common skin conditions like acne, dermatologists have expertise that allows them to diagnose skin conditions more quickly, differentiate common conditions from uncommon ones, and treat skin diseases with the latest medications and treatment protocols.

A Word From Verywell

A dermatologist can treat many skin conditions, but not all of them. Skin cancers, for example, require the care of specialists known as oncologists, while allergic skin conditions may require the expertise of an immunologist (also known as an allergist).

The benefit of a dermatologist is that they can usually identify the cause of your condition quickly and be able to direct you to the appropriate care just as quickly. They are also likely to know the best specialists in your area.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I prepare for my first dermatologist visit?

    Write down any symptoms you've had, including when and where on your body they occurred. Bring a list of any medications you are taking (both prescription and non-prescription). If possible, have relevant medical records sent to the office in advance of your appointment. Finally, jot down any questions you have so you don't forget.

  • What does a dermatologist do on the first visit?

    Expect to spend a good portion of time answering questions about your skin, medical history, and lifestyle habits. They will then examine the area of problematic skin, but may also do a full-body exam and take notes of moles, freckles, or features so they be checked for changes during your next visit.

  • Should I wash my face before seeing a dermatologist?

    It is easier for a dermatologist to see what is going on if your face is clean and makeup-free. Use a gentle cleanser and apply a light, non-tinted moisturizer immediately after.

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10 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 Association of Family Physicians. 2019 AAFP FMX Needs Assessment.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Treating acne? Is it time to see a dermatologist?

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Why choose a board certified dermatologist?

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Dry skin; diagnosis and treatment.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Skin cancer: melanoma signs and symptoms.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Nail fungus: diagnosis and treatment.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Rash 101 in adults: when to seek medical treatment.

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Burns, cuts, and other minor wounds.

  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hair loss types: alopecia areata diagnosis and treatment.

  10. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Melasma: diagnosis and treatment.