How to Tell If You Need a Dermatologist

Find out whether you need a specialist for your skin rash

A doctor who specializes in skin is called a dermatologist, However, there are several types of healthcare providers who can take care of basic skin conditions. Depending on the type of skin condition you're dealing with, you may need to see a certain level of provider.

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

Types of Healthcare Providers Who Treat Skin Conditions

  • Physician Assistant: These types of medical professionals have completed a two-year medical training program instead of a four-year medical school. Many work in certain specialized fields, such as dermatology.
  • Primary Care Physician or General Practitioner: An M.D. or D.O. who specializes in internal medicine or family practice for adults (or pediatrics for children). This is your normal doctor, whom you should be seeing once a year for a general check-up.
  • Physician Specialist: Examples of specialists who take care of skin conditions include dermatologists, surgeons, and allergists.
  • Subspecialist: Subspecialties are the most narrow and require the most training. Examples are plastic surgery, dermatopathology, and Mohs micrographic surgery.

When to Seek Professional Advice

Generally, if you have a new rash, you should see your regular provider first. Many skin conditions don't require a specialist for diagnosis and treatment. If your primary care provider isn't sure what kind of rash you have or isn't sure how to treat it, they will refer you to a specialist.

You should also consider seeing a dermatologist if the regular regimen that your primary care physician developed for you is not working.

When to See a Dermatologist

Some conditions are pretty exclusively treated by dermatologists. These include severe forms of common diseases such as acne, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea. Also included are uncommon diseases such as psoriasis, autoimmune skin conditions, bullous pemphigoid, and lichen planus.

Additionally, skin cancer screening for patients with a history of sun exposure, tanning bed use, radiation, organ transplant, immunosuppresion or family history of skin cancer is best performed by a dermatologist. They diagnose and treat skin cancers as well as prevent the development of skin cancers (such as by treating actinic keratoses). Sometimes skin cancers are treated in conjunction with a surgeon or subspecialist.

How to Find a Good Provider

To find a qualified skin doctor in your area, most specialties have websites that list board-certified doctors within that specialty. You can call your state's medical board to see if a specific provider has had any complaints against them. You can look up the doctor online and see what kind of credentials they have, as well as the types of reviews that they receive from patients.

As mentioned earlier, if you're looking for a specialist, you can ask your primary care physician for a referral. Finally, you can ask your friends and people within your community whether they have any recommendations. The good providers are usually well known.

How to Communicate With Your Provider

With all of these choices, where do you start? Most importantly, you should find a provider you can trust and communicate with comfortably. Communication is easier with someone who gets along with you well and takes you seriously. If you're not sure whether your current provider can take care of your skin condition, ask. Here are some examples of questions to ask your provider:

  • Do you take care of patients with this type of skin condition?
  • What information can you give me about my rash/breakout/other skin condition?
  • When do you refer patients with rashes to another provider?
  • Which provider would you refer me to?
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  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Why choose a board-certified dermatologist?