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What to expect: Your first visit to a dermatologist

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Dermatologists are board-certified medical doctors who are trained in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders related to the skin, nails and hair. A dermatologist is the expert you need whenever you have concerns about conditions like acne, skin cancer, rashes, wrinkles, warts, psoriasis, eczema, hair loss and nail fungus. 

At SIU Medicine, we advise most people to see a dermatologist once a year, although some individuals may need more frequent visits depending on their health history and personal risk factors. Seeing a dermatologist regularly—even if you don't currently have any skin concerns—is one of the best ways to detect conditions like skin cancer early on, which promotes earlier treatment and improved outcomes.

Are you getting ready for your first trip to the dermatology office? Here's what you can expect at your initial appointment. 

A review of your past medical history

To help get a clear picture of your current skin health, your dermatologist will spend time going over your past medical history with you. You can expect questions about topics such as:

  • Your family history of skin conditions
  • Your medical history, as well as your personal history of exposure to factors that can influence skin health, including sunburns, sunscreen use, smoking, allergies, diet and stress
  • Skin care products you use 
  • Your current skin health concerns, if any

Your dermatologist may also refer to any information about you that was sent by your referring provider prior to your appointment, as well as any information you've filled out in pre-appointment questionnaires or checklists. 

A full body skin examination

A head-to-toe, full body, professional skin examination from your dermatologist is an important component to your first visit. This gives your doctor a good baseline assessment of what looks "normal" for your skin and also gives him or her a chance to thoroughly inspect your skin for any areas of concern. 

Before the examination, you'll be given privacy so that you can undress fully and put on a medical gown. Using clean-gloved hands, your dermatologist will then inspect your skin from head to toe, including your scalp, back, behind the ears and between the toes (they might not inspect your genitals unless you have specific concerns in that area). To closely inspect the uppermost layers of your skin, your doctor may also use a small magnifying device called a dermatoscope.

During the examination, your doctor will be looking for any areas that look suspicious or concerning, such as rashes, moles and other skin issues. This is also a good time to bring up any specific spots or areas you have questions about! 

If your doctor feels that a certain spot requires more investigation, he or she may perform a biopsy, which involves removing some or all of the spot and sending it to a laboratory to be analyzed. After discussing the risks and benefits and obtaining your consent, your doctor will clean the area with alcohol and inject a local anesthetic so that you feel minimal to no pain during the biopsy itself. Depending on their findings, your dermatologist may also recommend additional tests, such as skin swabs, patch tests and blood tests. 

Tip: Want to ensure things go smoothly at the doctor's office and help your dermatologist perform their job thoroughly? Come to your appointment NOT wearing any jewelry, make up, nail polish and other cosmetics, and if you have long hair, wear it loosely. 

Discussion of your concerns and treatment options 

Once your dermatologist has conducted a medical history and physical examination and has ordered any necessary tests, he or she will be able to discuss their findings with you in great detail. They can also offer individualized treatment options to improve the health and appearance of your skin, such as:

  • Topical or injectable medications, serums and ointments
  • Chemical peels
  • Ultraviolet light therapy and other forms of laser treatment
  • Dermatological surgery, including mole removal 

Your dermatologist may diagnose a skin condition during your very first session, or they may not be able to give you a specific diagnosis until after additional test results become available, which may take several days. Either way, you should leave your appointment feeling better-informed about your skin health!

Our dermatology team is here to help you put your best face forward

Your skin is the largest organ in your body—let us help you take great care of it. Contact SIU Medicine today to find a doctor or to learn more about our dermatology team and services.

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