Question: What is a dermatologist visit like?


Do you mean a visit to a good dermatologist? Or a visit to a bad dermatologist?

Here’s a breakdown on good vs. bad dermatologists:

  • Bad dermatologists take a 5 millisecond long look at your skin and automatically prescribe a retinoid and antibiotic. They don’t bother to ask you anything about your skin because they are experts and can tell all about your skin woes and how to fix them with a fleeting glance. They push their own products on you and scurry you out the door. It took them 3 minutes to “cure” your skin conditions and it’s going to take them another 3 minutes with the remaining patients, who have all had to book their appointments 2 months in advance just to get in! Most patients leave bad dermatologists’ offices with a lighter wallet and blank expression, thinking: “What the hell just happened?”

  • Good dermatologists have actually seen you and your skin without makeup (if you are wearing makeup, they will ask you to remove it). They talk to you and spend more time with you. They let you tell them your skin concerns. They will explain, in detail, various treatment options. They will give you precise directions for how to use prescription products. They will ask you about what other products you are using and make sensible product suggestions for your skin type. They will be generous with samples. They will give you a pat on the back and tell you that treating skin conditions takes time but that they will be with you to hold your hand all the way through. Even if you have a giant third-eye cyst budding on your forehead, you leave good dermatologists’ offices with a big smile on your face and the desire to hug random strangers because “everything is going to be okay.”

Unfortunately, good dermatologists are rare species, possibly endangered. It's up to you to get the most bang from your buck. Before you go to a dermatologist, do the following homework so you can get the maximum benefit from your visit:

  1. Make sure your dermatologist is a reputable one. Ask your friends or relatives for doctor recommendations or check online for doctor reviews.

  2. Learn about your skin and skin condition first. No one will care more about your skin than yourself so make sure you are well-educated. If you have a good idea about your skin, you will be better able to address or identify any skin concerns.

  3. Do research on available treatments for your skin condition so you can ask your dermatologist which treatment is best for you. Most dermatologists may seem hurried and unwilling to talk, but that may be because they have a long line of patients waiting for them. If you arm yourself with knowledge before hand, it can make things easier for both you and your dermatologist. You will understand what the dermatologist is talking about and the dermatologist will save time because he/she won’t have to explain things in too much detail (but if you have questions, don't hold back). However, don’t be a smart ass. Most dermatologists will not appreciate a patient who makes himself or herself out to be smarter than the doctor. Have respect. They are ones who went through medical school, right?

  4. Make a list of products that you use so you can ask your dermatologist if these are okay for your skin type. If you have products you are thinking about using in the future, you can also ask your dermatologist if those will be suitable.

  5. Write down any questions you want to ask your dermatologist on a sheet of paper and bring it with you to the visit because it’s very easy to forget what you want to discuss during the actual consultation. Feel free to take notes too.

  6. If prescribed medicine, ask about the side effects and risks, as well as what you should and should not do to minimize their effects. Most dermatologists will have samples of prescription products for you to test out. Ask your dermatologist for trial versions because they might forget to give you some. Also, if brand name prescription products are too expensive, don't be shy about asking for generic alternatives.

  7. Unless you have suspicious moles on parts of your skin that never see the sun, you will be able to keep your clothes on. But, you still might feel somewhat “naked” and uncomfortable with someone examining your skin so closely and seeing the “real” you. This kind of exposure is good though. The more the dermatologist can see your skin in its natural state, the more they will learn about your skin and how to treat it.

It can be embarrassing and emotionally distressing to see a dermatologist, but keep in mind that they aren’t judging you for having imperfect skin. Dermatologists see this kind of stuff everyday so they’re not going to go, “OMG your acne is so bad!” or “OMG! You have so many wrinkles and so much sun damage! And at such a young age? Tsk, tsk, tsk.” These are professional medical practitioners with professional attitudes and hopefully kind hearts.

With all of this in mind, don’t expect one dermatologist visit to clear or improve your skin right away. Even prescription products take trial-and-error and time to work. In fact, if it's within your budget and insurance plan, I would see at least 2 dermatologists (3 is even better) to compare their treatment suggestions.

Regardless, preparation, sound advice, and willpower will make things work for the better in the end.

Last updated: September 17, 2012

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