Ongoing medical advances have opened exciting treatment possibilities for the care and rejuvenation of the skin. With so many of these novel skin treatments aimed at aesthetic goals, patients often wonder about the line between traditional medicinal dermatology and the work of a cosmetic dermatologist. At SKC Dermatology in Paramus, NJ, we bring together the best of both worlds, with state-of-the-art expertise in skin conditions and aesthetic skin enhancements.
While we rarely think of it this way, our skin is the largest organ in the body. On average, a person’s skin covers 20 square feet of area and takes up more than 14% of our total body weight. Beyond its size, our skin is remarkably complex. A single square inch of skin contains thousands of nerve endings and hundreds of sweat glands, among other tissue components.
Skin is made up of three main layers which are further divided into even more sub-layers. The outer layer of the skin – the epidermis – is what the world sees and is the most exposed of all our organs. Skin is often a visual indicator of changes in health and wellness in other parts of the body. Allergies, stress, dehydration, and hormonal changes, such as in puberty or pregnancy, are only a few examples that show up on the skin.
The Difference Between a Dermatologist and a Cosmetic Dermatologist
Skin serves many different roles for the body and arguably endures the most exposure to outside harm. For this reason, the skin is susceptible to both specific diseases and the visible effects of wear as we age. A dermatologist is a doctor that specializes in diseases of the skin. These range from temporary or relatively harmless conditions such as acne or minor dermatitis (rash) to potentially deadly diseases such as the various forms of skin cancer.
A cosmetic dermatologist is a medical specialist with particular expertise or focus on the aesthetic enhancement of the skin. This includes a broad range of treatments for unwanted blemishes or skin degradations. Examples include wart and tag removal, laser hair removal, and skin rejuvenation through chemical peels and microneedling techniques that make the patient look (and feel!) younger.
Is a Cosmetic Dermatologist a Doctor?
Not all dermatologists are cosmetic specialists, and many skincare “specialists” are not dermatologists. While treatment of skin diseases is always left to a clinical dermatologist, many aesthetic treatments that are given at spas or “skincare centers” are administered by people who are not doctors. They may have been trained on specific skin technologies or treatments but are not trained as physicians.
Whether treating skin that is suffering from a condition or enhancing damaged skin through one of the exciting new skin therapies, the best and safest choice for the patient is a clinical dermatologist with cosmetic skills. We offer the greatest expertise in the skin and can recommend and administer the most thoughtful and effective remedies for any skin issues.
Elective vs Medical Need
Because conditions of the skin are so visible, most patients want to resolve them as quickly as possible. However, many treatments for skin imperfections are considered to be “cosmetic” in nature, rather than medically necessary. This distinction comes up most frequently when considering whether health insurance will cover treatments for skin conditions. Most insurers will not cover purely cosmetic procedures. These are generally undertaken as an out-of-pocket choice for the patient.
That said, many skin conditions that are aesthetically unpleasing (and most of them are) can in fact be considered appropriate for medical treatment – and therefore, coverable by insurance. Some examples include severe cases of acne and discolored “port wine” stains on the face, which are actually caused by a vascular issue. In considering cosmetic dermatology, it’s worthwhile to schedule a consultation appointment to evaluate whether the treatment is purely elective or can be covered by insurance.
Medical Skin Problems
Damages or diseases of the skin can be brought on by both external and internal root causes. Allergic skin reactions to triggers like poison ivy or caustic liquids can show up on the skin within moments or hours. Over-exposure to sunlight can cause both short and long-term skin damage that can actually be deadly. Skin protection, in the way of sunblock, gloves, and protective wear, is always well-advised.
Other diseases that present through the skin actually originate elsewhere in the body and cannot be treated by simple topical procedures. One example is shingles, which looks like a particularly virulent skin disease (and is) but is actually caused by a virus. The outbreak, which can be painful and cause long-term pain, may be brought on by mental stress, or even by childhood exposure to chickenpox. Other medical skin issues include:
There are various forms of skin cancer, and patients should be screened for this deadly possibility on a regular basis by a dermatologist. In many, but not all cases, overexposure to harmful UV rays in sunlight is the culprit, Moles or skin lesions that change in size or shape are also suspect and should be examined promptly, even when they are on parts of the body that aren’t generally exposed to the sun. Self-examination on a regular basis is also important.
Dermatitis and Eczema
While these are technically not the same condition, the symptoms of eczema and “atopic” dermatitis often appear to be similar. Both present themselves as itchy, irritated skin that can also be dry and scaly. Triggers can come from outside factors such as exposure to chemicals or harsh cosmetics, or internal factors, such as stress or poor circulation. Experts are still uncertain of the causes of eczema, but effective treatments are available and can bring lasting relief.
This condition usually shows up as a new discoloration (redness) in the facial region. The cause of the symptoms are blood vessels that have become visible; sometimes the condition also includes small pimples in the affected area. The specific cause for rosacea is unknown, but clinicians believe that both heredity and environmental factors are at play. There is no cure for this condition, but with care, it can be managed and the visible effects minimized.
This skin disease is quite common; about 2% of the American population will experience it. From a symptomatic standpoint, the disease resembles other forms of dermatitis, with red, scaly skin, often on the knees, elbows or knuckles. The cause is quite different though; psoriasis is thought to be an immune disorder that triggers an overgrowth of new skin cells. While the condition is chronic, there are excellent remedies, ranging from topical creams to light therapy.
As we age, the workings of our body begin to slow down and exhibit signs of wear. Nowhere is this more visible than on the skin. Over the course of time, our skin loses its taut suppleness, and the body’s own power to regenerate fresh skin and tissue loses its effectiveness with age. The unwanted visual effects are well-known: wrinkles, drooping, crow’s feet around the eyes, and “frown lines” around the mouth are common.
Beyond these natural effects of aging, many of us have skin imperfections that we’d love to be rid of. Warts, sun spots, skin tags, unwanted hair – these are all skin conditions that we can live with but would rather not. Today’s cosmetic dermatologist is able to remedy these skin blemishes with techniques that provide dramatic effects. Some of the most popular of these treatments include:
Laser Hair Removal
Thanks to breakthrough technology, this has become one of the most popular cosmetic treatments. With this therapy, special-frequency light waves are aimed at the hair follicles. The pigment in the follicle absorbs the light, which after several applications ultimately destroys the hair. The hair loss is permanent – no more tweezing or waxing needed.
The skin has remarkable rejuvenating powers. New skin cells at the outer epidermis are replaced naturally every 10 to 30 days! With age, however, these abilities slow down. A chemical peel is a treatment that essentially nudges the body to produce new fresh, supple skin. There are several different levels of chemical peel that go to different depths of the skin for different effects.
Our cosmetic dermatologist works with each patient to decide the most appropriate individual treatment:
- Superficial Peels: Surface-level treatments to brighten complexion or fix acne scars
- Medium Peels: Stronger treatments to remedy facial lines and wrinkles
- Deep peels: More intensive therapy that uses stronger acid for more involved restoration
This technique produces both near-term and long-term benefits. Conceptually, the idea is similar to a chemical peel: deliberately “damage” the skin so that the body repairs it naturally with fresh new collagen. Microneedling goes further than the chemical peel by penetrating deeper into the skin with extremely fine needles that work like pinpricks. Near term effects can be very pleasing, but even better than that, multiple sessions spaced out over time can actually improve natural long-term collagen production.
These are non-cancerous growths that appear as a bump of rough skin. While they can appear almost anywhere on the body, these most often show up on the hands. Most warts are caused by a virus and can take months to develop. While warts will sometimes go away on their own over time, many cases remain persistent. Wart removal is relatively simple and helps both patients and their loved ones, because warts are contagious and can be spread by contact.
Like warts, most moles are soft, non-cancerous growths that can show up anywhere on the body. They are usually nothing to worry about and quite common – it’s estimated that a typical adult body has 10 to 40 moles. However, an unfortunately located mole can play an outsized role in a person’s appearance and self-image. Mole removal is relatively simple but is actually a minor surgical procedure, the cosmetic dermatologist will focus on minimizing any scars left by removal.
How Do I Get Started?
Before considering the right practitioner for your skin needs, it’s important to take stock of what your goals are and who might be best able to help you achieve them. While there are many independent facilities that position themselves as skin specialists, it’s important to note the difference between a spa technician and an actual dermatologist. The latter will have formal, specialized medical training in skin conditions and treatments, in addition to training in the cosmetic arts.
Art is almost as important as science when it comes to cosmetic dermatology; after all, the work is being performed to achieve an aesthetic effect. A professional that combines both of these skills in one practice offers you the best balance of experience, confidence, and guidance for the correct procedures and the right guidance for aftercare. Call for an appointment today with SKC Dermatology in Paramus, NJ.