7 Times to See a Dermatologist

These are the instances when you need to get a pro involved.

Not every skin issue calls for a (possibly pricey) visit to the dermatologist. If you have a random pimple or pesky cold sore, Dr. Google can offer some viable answers. But in a handful of instances, booking an appointment with your dermatologist (an actual board-certified one) is an absolute non-negotiable. Here are seven scenarios that warrant an in-office visit.

01 of 07

New or Changing Mole

Melanomas (the most dangerous type of skin cancer) tend to look like atypical moles or brown spots, says Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Keep an eye out for any changes in size, shape, and color, says Ife J. Rodney, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founding director of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, Md. And if a new mole pops up out of nowhere, it also warrants a doctor's visit, says Tracy Evans, MD, MPH, medical director of Pacific Skin and Dermatology in San Francisco. Catching it early can truly make the difference between life and death.

02 of 07

Lesion That Won't Heal

"The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma," says Dr. King. "It typically presents as a skin-colored, red, or sometimes dark-colored bump with a rolled border." If you notice one of these that isn't going away, or appears to be changing, get yourself to a dermatologist, stat. Unlike melanoma, basal cell carcinoma is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, but it can grow into nearby areas (and even into the bone) if left untreated.

03 of 07

Hair Shedding More Than Usual

According to Dr. Rodney, it's normal to lose about 50 to 100 hair strands per day. (Typically, people don't even notice.) If it's more than this—i.e., if you're noticing hair loss, thinning, or a bald spot, make an appointment with your dermatologist right away, advises Dr. Rodney. "There are several reasons why you could be losing your hair, and your dermatologist will have a range of medication and in-office solutions that can help," she explains.

But time is of the essence: "If you wait too long to get treatment, your hair follicles can become scarred over and the hairs in these areas may not grow back," she adds.

04 of 07

Deep and Painful Pimples

Breakouts happen to the best of us, and plenty of good over-the-counter options exist to treat them. But if your acne is cystic—meaning the blemishes are red and painful and under your skin—see a derm ASAP, as this type of acne can lead to unsightly scarring.

"Scarring as a result of acne can often be prevented if it's treated early and with the correct therapies," points out Dr. Evans. "We can get to the root of the issue and provide cream medications, injections, or pills to help calm the cysts and prevent further scarring," adds Dr. Rodney. "We can also treat existing acne scarring with procedures like microneedling, chemical peels, and lasers."

05 of 07

Random Rash Appears

"If you have a small or large patch of skin where you've suddenly developed a strange rash, burning, itching, or irritation, see a dermatologist immediately," says Dr. Rodney. "An over-the-counter solution may give some relief, but there could be an underlying issue that won't go away without your dermatologist's help."

Rashes can have many causes, including eczema, contact dermatitis, infections, fungus, or an allergic reaction. Another red flag: irritation that's accompanied by increasing warmth, tenderness, redness, swelling, or pus. "These are all signs of infection, which need to be treated as quickly as possible to prevent worsening," cautions Dr. King.

06 of 07

Red Skin All the Time

A little ruddiness after an intense spin class or an awkward social encounter is normal, but if your redness is constant, something else is going on. This could be a sign of rosacea, particularly if your perma-flush is concentrated on the nose and cheeks, says Dr. Evans. While there's no real cure for the condition, dermatologists have tools to help manage it, including medication and in-office treatments like lasers, adds Dr. Rodney.

07 of 07

Annual Skin Check

Like a yearly dental cleaning or visit to the gyno, an annual skin check is an absolute must for early detection of skin cancer, particularly melanoma. "If melanoma is diagnosed and treated early, it's almost always curable. If it isn't, unfortunately, it can spread to other parts of the body and be fatal," says Dr. King. Scheduling your annual skin check at the same time each year, around an event such as your birthday, can serve as a helpful reminder.

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  2. Davis LE, Shalin SC, Tackett AJ. Current state of melanoma diagnosis and treatment. Cancer Biol Ther. 2019;20(11):1366-1379. doi:10.1080/15384047.2019.1640032

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