Psst! Here’s What You Should Be Asking Your Dermatologist

You go to them with questions about creams, ingredients, and lasers. But when you speak with your dermatologist, is there anything you’re not asking? We asked the experts to share what they wish you would inquire about.
Expert Opinion
Written by Vivien Moon
(21)Is this article helpful?7 min read
Psst! Here’s What You Should Be Asking Your Dermatologist Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock

When it comes to navigating the world of skincare, the list of questions feels endless. When to start using a retinoid? Does Botox® hurt? Do you really need to wear sunscreen in the winter? The short answers are: Integrate retinol slowly and allow your skin to adjust; Botox® doesn’t hurt; and, yes, wear sunscreen all day, every day, no matter what. But the list of questions goes on and on.

We get it. Wrapping your head around the nuances of skin health and various skin conditions can be daunting. We also know that no one understands this better than your dermatologist. Sure, you may come to your appointment or consultation with a stack of inquiries, but, since you can’t be expected to think of everything, we’ve decided to give the dermatologists the mic. Here, board certified dermatologists share the questions they always hear and the ones they wish you’d ask.

The Most Commonly Asked Cosmetic Dermatology Questions

Of course, in today’s prejuvenation era, the most commonly asked skincare questions revolve around preventative care. Aesthetic medicine is not at the point of preserving everlasting youth, but dermatologists know that they are often thought of as the gatekeepers to the fountain of youth.

“How to best take care of my skin to prevent premature aging is probably my number one question,” says board certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD, of LM Medical NYC. Call them tweakments, precautionary treatments, or advanced anti-aging action, Hollywood-based board certified dermatologist Jason Emer, MD, wants to help. He sees the skincare landscape changing to cater to problems before they arrive. “More and more, my patients begin skincare treatments such as radiofrequency lasers and chemical peels in their late twenties. In their early thirties they’re hoping to prevent common signs of aging before they become evident,” he shares. “Patients ask me what they can do now to avoid skin degeneration later.”

For board certified dermatologist Samer Jaber, MD, founder of Washington Square Dermatology in Manhattan, patients often wonder about their skin conditions and to optimize their skincare regimen for optimal skin health. Among the most common questions Dr. Jaber hears from patients:

  • What kind of moisturizer/cleanser should I be using?
  • How do I know if a mole is worrisome?
  • How can I prevent aging without breaking the bank?
  • What kind of sunscreen should I use?

What Your Dermatologist Wishes You Would Ask

Whether it’s during an annual skin exam or their first cosmetic consultation, questions naturally arise. But that doesn’t mean patients are checking all the boxes. Here are three questions patients aren’t asking that their dermatologists wish they would:

1. Should I Really Get This Done?

For Dr. Emer, pre-preventative care questions are vital. “When patients come to me after having had a bad prior experience or even a botched procedure, I definitely wish they would’ve asked more questions before jumping the gun,” he explains. “It’s so important to ask about all options so you can weigh out the risks and benefits. For example, ‘Would I benefit from threads or filler?’ The answer is easily ‘both’ but it is up to the patient to ask the deeper questions like, ‘Which product would complement my best features for a natural result and why?’ No two faces are the same, so it’s crucial to make a very clear blueprint of what you envision for your most desired outcome.”

2. What Is in My Skincare Products?

“I wish people would ask more about ingredients in skincare and really be open to thinking about what they are using and how it affects their skin,” Dr. Rabach says. Whether you simply wash your face with soap and water or enjoy a multi-step routine, your regimen should, above all, be a well-researched one.

To start, you must figure out what is best for your skin — not what is most buzzed about or what the current ‘problem-solving’ miracle product is. “Many cosmetic products claim certain things that aren’t necessarily scientifically proven or tested. Sometimes people ‘like’ a cream and aren’t open to using something that has more science behind it for the health and look of their skin,” Dr. Rabach explains. “If people enjoy or ‘relax’ by using certain products, that’s also important for self care. But certain active ingredients most definitely work better than others.”

Dr. Emer shares a similar sentiment, noting the importance of sourcing your products from reputable providers. “If you are in search of products that will be effective in treating the four main components of aging skin – texture/tone, laxity, movement lines, and loss of volume – you must choose top-of-the-line brands,” he says.

3. How Can I Better Protect My Skin?

“We wish our patients asked more questions about skin cancer protection and the risks of sun damage,” Dr. Jaber says. Preventative care with the use of sunblock is paramount for your overall health and appearance. “The number one cause of aging is sun damage,” he explains. “It is important to remind our patients that sunscreen, while helpful and necessary, is not equivalent to actually blocking the sun. Even with sunscreen, spending significant time in the sun will still cause sun damage.” And the dangers of prolonged sun exposure go far beyond the cosmetic. “In addition to the negative cosmetic effects of aging, significant sun exposure also significantly increases their risk of skin cancers,” he warns.

4. Can You Please Explain This A Bit More?

“I think the amount of information out there naturally overwhelms people, and by the time they end up at the dermatologist’s office, the degree of confusion is so vast that people aren’t sure how to vocalize their questions,” explains board certified dermatologist Nikhil Dhingra, MD, of Spring Street Dermatology in NYC. Everyone is at a different point in their skincare journey, so confusion is natural. Dr. Dhingra recommends patients focus on what concerns pertain to them and to go from there. “Coming up with a list of your top three skincare concerns based on your own assessment and then asking your dermatologist what’s right for each concern is a good starting point,” he adds.

Addressing Your Preventative Skincare Misconceptions

When it comes to cultivating a skincare routine, most people have the best intentions. But that’s not to say patients aren’t getting a few things wrong. From skimping on sunscreen to not scheduling annual skin checks, skin health is about more than the latest lotions and potions or cosmetic procedures.

Speaking of skincare, Dr. Emer shares that what you see from Hollywood shouldn’t replace the insight of a dermatologist. “It’s bothersome when I read articles about celebrities using drugstore products – indicating that all anti-aging products work the same. They absolutely do not,” he explains. While sticker shock is real, there is usually a reason why the prices surge for certain types of products. “They have a high price tag for a reason. The ingredients are usually proprietary, rare, and sourced from exclusive regions of the world,” Dr. Jaber adds. “A drugstore retinol cannot be compared to a medical-grade product.”

Additionally, sourcing skincare advice online can create a skewed image of what a routine needs to look like for each individual. “Nowadays, with blogs and social media, there is this need to do too much to the skin and if we’re not, it means we’re not taking good care of ourselves,” adds Dr. Dhingra. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling to generate a routine for yourself, rather than diving through the bowels of the internet for information from random resources, seeking help from a dermatologist can be the most productive thing to do for your skin,” he explains.

How Often Should You Visit A Dermatologist, Anyway?

Generally speaking, all patients should visit the dermatologist at least once a year for a regular skin check. If you are also visiting your provider for cosmetic treatments and procedures, Dr. Rabach recommends scheduling an appointment two to four times a year for “maintenance of complexion, such as routine skin checks, chemical peels, Botox®, and more.”

Dr. Jaber warns that family history needs to be taken into account as well. “If you have a family or personal history of skin cancers, like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, you should come in at least every six months,” he says. It is important to remember that your skin is your body’s largest organ, and you need to pay attention to skin tone, dark spots, blemishes, sun spots, and any other areas of concern that might come up over a period of time. “You should also see a dermatologist if a certain mole worries you,” he shares. “For example, if a new mole appears or if a current mole because darker, develops an irregular border, or has any signs of itching, burning, bleeding, you should have it evaluated by your dermatologist.”

And those who have yet to schedule their first appointment or have skipped their annual check ups because they’ve sought out help online, Dr. Dhingra suggests coming in sooner rather than later. “There are so many arbitrary pseudo-scientific ‘rules' consumers feel they need to follow or they feel they’re doing their routines inadequately,” he warns. “By the time they come to our office, they’ve been through the wringer and they’re frustrated and need someone to guide them through the mess.”

The Takeaway

From medical dermatology to aesthetic medicine, there are no shortage of things to talk about with your dermatologist. While your provider has a list of questions he or she will ask you during regular visits, it is up to you to come ready with inquiries that pertain to your skin, desires, and concerns.

Sure, reading the label might leave you with more questions than answers, but a dermatologist will be able to give you the lowdown on creating a skincare routine (both at home and in office) that works for you. From sunscreen to skin conditions, don’t be shy about asking your dermatologist about anything you can do to better take care of your skin — they’ll be happy to answer.

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VIVIEN MOONis a senior editor at AEDIT.

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