Dermatologists practice two kinds of dermatology: cosmetic and medical. In some cases, there may be an overlap between the categories. But in both areas, our primary concern is that our patients are happy, healthy, and looking their personal best.
Medical dermatology procedures generally treat or cure skin disorders. Some of the most common medical dermatology procedures treat these disorders:
• Skin Cancer
While the primary goal of medical dermatology is not improved appearance, oftentimes treatment will clear up a condition that a patients feels is unsightly. For instance, although treating acne is a medical dermatology procedure, many patients welcome reducing the appearance of acne in order to improve their appearance. In comparison, cosmetic dermatology is more concerned with improving visual appearance. Cosmetic dermatology includes treatments like Botox or fillers, chemical peels, and laser hair removal.
Medical Dermatology Procedures
Medical dermatology uses both surgical and non-surgical tools to treat patients’ skin conditions. Techniques vary depending on what the diagnosis is, of course. Here are some of the most common skin conditions that medical dermatology treats and the associated procedures:
Almost everyone gets a zit now and then. But if you or your teen feels overwhelmed by your acne and over-the-counter treatments haven’t helped, it may be time to see a dermatologist. Dermatologists can treat whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, cysts, and nodules using tools and medications that patients cannot access themselves.
• Topical Treatments for Acne
Topical treatments for acne generally fall into one of two categories: either they help kill bacteria on the surface of the skin and just under the skin, or they help reduce the amount of oil in your skin. Both bacteria and oil can cause acne. Some topical treatments contain the same medicine that you can purchase over-the-counter, but at stronger levels that are only available with a prescription. These medicines include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Some topical treatments also contains antibiotics.
• Oral Treatments for Acne
If you or your teen suffers from red, swollen, and sore bumps of acne like cysts and nodules, or your acne is in places (like your back) that you cannot treat with a topical medication, your dermatologist may prescribe an oral medication to help reduce your acne. These medications may include: antibiotics to help kill bacteria and reduce skin inflammation; medications that regulate hormones (for instance, some birth control pills can help women control their acne); or isotretinoin, one of the few medications that treats all causes of acne.
• In-Office Procedures for Treating Acne
For some patients, in-office procedures may help reduce their acne or help them avoid outbreaks. In some cases, patients with severe acne will undergo an initial in-office procedure, and then they will proceed by using topical and/or oral medications at home, as well as following a dermatologist-directed cleansing routine. Many of these patients will not need follow in-office procedures, or will need them less frequently. In other cases, regular in-office treatments may be the solution for patients suffering from acne.
In-office procedures to treat acne include some techniques that are also considered cosmetic procedures, like laser treatments, light therapies, and chemical peels. Lasers and light therapies target the bacteria that causes acne, while chemical peels treat blackheads and pimples. You can often find chemical peels and even light therapy devices in your local drugstore or beauty store – but these over-the-counter versions are far weaker than the ones your dermatologist will use.
Your dermatologist may also work to remove your acne using an extraction tool. This is generally painless, except for some pressure, but if your blackheads are very deep or you have painful cysts, your dermatologist may use a local anesthetic to keep you comfortable during the procedure.
• At-Home Acne Prevention
Once your skin has cleared, your dermatologist may slightly change your acne-prevention regimen, but it’s very rare for patients to stop treatments all together as soon as their skin clears. That’s because the some of the underlying causes of acne – your body’s production of oil and your pore size – aren’t changed with treatment. Of course, as we all know, oftentimes severe teenage acne calms down considerably once the hormonal upheaval of the teenage years is over. No matter what stage in acne and skin care you are in, your dermatologist can help you design a plan to keep your skin healthy, happy, and blemish-free for years to come.
Eczema is a generic name for a group of skin conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed. Eczema may be caused by an allergic reaction to something you’ve touched or eaten or may simply crop up from time to time without much explanation. Dermatologists have a handful of ways to treat the symptoms of eczema and to reduce outbreaks.
• Atopic Dermatitis
Many babies develop atopic dermatitis. Red, dry, scaly patches appear on the child’s body, usually the scalp, forehead, or face, and they can be very itchy. Since it is difficult to keep small children from scratching an itch, it’s possible for children to break the skin, which then opens the area up to possible infection. And let’s face it: when you’re itchy and can’t scratch it, it can make you miserable! So if you suspect your child has eczema / atopic dermatitis, see a dermatologist right away. Topical and oral treatments are generally effective in helping cure the itch of eczema and your dermatologist may help you investigate possible allergens that your child has been exposed to that may irate their skin, including foods, different clothing and bedding materials, laundry soap, and body lotions and soaps.
• Contact Dermatitis
Most people refer to contact dermatitis as simply a rash: basically, your skin has come into contact with something that has irritated it. Common causes of allergic contact dermatitis are poison ivy, an allergic reaction to nickel, and latex. Causes of irritant contact dermatitis include diaper rash or dry, cracked hands due to hands being in water too often. Toxic substances like bleach, acid, and pepper spray can also cause irritant contact dermatitis, as can certain foods and soaps and lotions.
Sometimes the source of the irritant is unclear. Your dermatologist will ask you questions about your past medical health and changes to household products. They may ask you to keep a journal of what you wear, eat, and put on your skin, as well as a record of your outbreaks, to see if you can together determine the cause. In other cases, a dermatologist may order a patch test. During a patch test, your doctor will apply small amounts of known allergens to your skin to see if they cause reactions.
If you can establish what is causing the rash, the first step is avoiding that item. But if the reaction is severe or continues and you can’t determine what the cause is, your doctor may prescribe oral medications to take regularly or, in the case of very severe reactions, to take when you sense an impending reaction. Your dermatologist can also provide you with topical medication to reduce redness and itching in the meantime.
These are merely two of the many kinds of eczema. If you suspect you have eczema, make an appointment to see your dermatologist today.
Psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells multiple faster than they should and they create plaques of red skin, generally covered by dead skin cells that have a silver, flaky color. Psoriasis can be unsightly and uncomfortable and cracks in the affected areas can become infected. Psoriasis is considered to be a result of an imbalanced immune system. It is incurable, but responds well to treatments.
Dermatologists can prescribe a variety of topical treatments for psoriasis, including salicylic acid, steroid-based creams, ointments that contain calcipotriene, and prescription retinoids. Your dermatologist may also prescribe coal-tar treatments, in the form of ointments and shampoos, which help slow the growth of skin cells. While some of these medicines are available over-the-counter, your dermatologist can prescribe stronger versions of them and can help you understand and manage possible side effects. Some dermatologists may also prescribe laser or light treatments for psoriasis.
When the above treatments have failed, dermatologists may prescribe oral medications to help treat psoriasis. These medications generally affect the immune system and can promote dramatic healing, but they also tend to come with more side effects than topical and light-based treatments. Patients with psoriasis should speak to their dermatologist about how to improve their immune system function and reduce their stress level: these steps can help reduce future outbreaks.
While the most common form of rosacea is facial redness, it can also include red bumps and pimples, skin thickening, and eye irritation. If you are experiencing distressful facial redness, keep track of when it occurs. Does it happen all the time? Does it seem to appear at a certain time of day more than others? Is it associated with any specific foods or beverages? These answers can help your dermatologist properly treat your rosacea.
For most rosacea sufferers, topical and oral medications will clear up their skin. For more severe cases that involve skin thickening, surgery may be required. If you are experiencing persistent red, itchy, dry eyes, you should see your eye doctor as soon as possible.
Treating Skin Cancer
Skin cancer comes in a variety of forms and is a serious medical condition. We strongly encourage all of our patients to schedule regular “skin checks.” These skin checks allow your dermatologist to examine your skin even in areas you cannot easily view, like your back, and to get an idea of what is normal for your skin and to pinpoint any problem spots, should they arise. As is true of any cancer, early detection is of primary importance.
In order to help you spot possible cancerous lesions early on, we recommend that you remember your ABCDEs:
A is Asymmetry: a mole or birthmark or other skin growth is not symmetrical.
B is for Border Irregularity: the edges or a birthmark, mole, or other skin growth are ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color: the area is multi-colored.
D is for Diameter: the area is larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
E is for Evolution: you’ve noticed a change in the area over the course of weeks or months. This may be a change in size, shape, or color, or you may notice that it has become itchy or especially tender.
If you notice any of the ABCDEs, schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist immediately. The ABCDEs don’t mean it’s definitely cancer – it could be something much less worrisome like a wart or seborrheic keratosis – but it’s important to know and get the spot treated right away.
If you are diagnosed with melanoma, it may be fairly easily treated without chemotherapy or radiation. When melanoma is detected early on and only affects the skin, the cancerous area can be surgically removed. This can almost always been done using only a local anesthetic. However, if melanoma goes undetected and is able to spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body, you may need to have other treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
The best protection against cancer is PREVENTION. Wear long clothing that protects your skin from the sun, wear sun block or makeup with SPF protection on areas of your body that you cannot cover up. In the meantime, see your dermatologist regularly for skin checks.
These are simply some of the most common conditions we treat with medical dermatology methods. As always, our goal is to help you get and keep the healthiest skin you can at any age. If you are interested in having your skin checked or want to learn more about medical dermatology procedures, please call our offices today to make an appointment.