When it comes to skin issues, there are plenty of times when it's OK to play dermatologist and take matters into your own hands. If you have a random pimple or pesky cold sore, Dr. Google sometimes has some viable answers. But there are also a handful of instances in which booking an appointment with your dermatologist (you know, an actual board-certified one) is an absolute nonnegotiable. Ahead, top dermatologists share seven scenarios that most definitely warrant an in-office visit.
You have a mole that's new or changing
All three of the dermatologists we spoke with cited this as one of, if not the, most important reasons to book an appointment with your derm. Melanomas typically 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. Again, early detection is paramount. Catching things early can truly make the difference between life and death.
There's a lesion that won't heal
Skin cancer doesn't always manifest as new or changing moles. "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, and/or (like a mole) is changing, get yourself to a dermatologist, stat.
Your hair is falling out more than usual
According to Dr. Rodney, it's normal to lose about 50 to 100 hair strands per day. (Typically, this isn't something that people even notice.) If it's more than this—i.e., if you're noticing hair loss, thinning, or a bald spot, you should 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.
Your pimples are deep and painful
Breakouts happen to the best of us, and there are plenty of good over-the-counter options that can help clear your complexion. But if your acne is cystic—meaning the blemishes are red and painful and under your skin—see a derm ASAP, as this is the type of acne that can lead to unsightly scarring. "Scarring as a result of acne can often be prevented if it is 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."
A random rash has popped up
"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. There could be a few reasons, including eczema, contact dermatitis, infections, or fungus. 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," explains Dr. Rodney. Dr. Evans agrees, noting that this could also be an allergic reaction, and a derm can help figure out a way to prevent issues like this in the future.
Similarly, if this irritation is accompanied by increasing warmth, tenderness, redness, swelling and/or pus, seeking medical help is even more important. "These are all signs of infection, which need to be treated as quickly as possible to prevent worsening," cautions Dr. King.
Your skin is red all the time
A little ruddiness after an intense spin class or an awkward social encounter is normal, but if your redness is pretty much constant, something else is going on. This could very well 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 much better tools to help manage it, including medication and in-office treatments such as lasers, adds Dr. Rodney.
For your annual skin check
Just like a yearly dental cleaning or visit to the gyno, a yearly skin check is an absolute must—and that's because early detection of skin cancer, melanoma in particular, is absolutely crucial. "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.. Making your annual skin check at the same time each year, around an event such as your birthday, can serve as a helpful reminder.