A dermatologist will treat people of all ages and work both in private practice and in hospitals throughout New Zealand. Find out more about dermatologists, their role, how to access a dermatologist and how they may help your family.
What is a dermatologist?
A dermatologist is a doctor highly trained in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions – `derma’ coming from the Greek word that means skin. It is estimated that 1 in 10 visits to a doctor are because of a skin problem.
Dermatologists in New Zealand have undergone a minimum of 13 years training, which includes general medical training followed by specialist training, including surgical procedures. The need for such specialised training is due to skin conditions often being indicative, or linked to, problems deeper within the body. The dermatologist needs to understand issues like endocrinology (hormones within the body), biochemistry (the chemistry of the body) and microbiology (the study of micro-organisms such as bacteria).
The New Zealand Dermatological Society says there is a growing trend for some general practitioners to call themselves `skin specialists’, but they emphasize this is a very different sphere of experience from a trained dermatologist.
Dermatologists are best known for their work with benign (non-spreading) and malignant (spreading) skin cancers, as well as conditions like psoriasis and eczema. In the 21st century however, they also have a growing profile in the cosmetic anti-aging area, where people want to keep looking younger throughout their life. For example: dermabrasion, chemical face peels, laser surgery, intense pulsed light therapy, hair transplantation, Botox, soft dermal fillers and liposuction.
Other areas dermatologists work with include problems with the mouth, hair, nails, sexually transmitted diseases, and problems with the superficial blood system (such as varicose veins).
Paediatric dermatologists specialise in treating skin problems and congenital problems in children.
When should I see a dermatologist?
New Zealanders are well known for being at higher risk of skin cancer than almost any other place in the world. Regular skin checkups are recommended and while a general practitioner or specialist company like Mole Map often do these, when abnormalities or concerns are discovered you will be referred to a dermatologist.
You will also be referred to a dermatologist when your doctor is worried about skin conditions they feel need more specialised help.
Referrals to a dermatologist may be for:
- Fungal infections
- Melanoma and other skin cancers
- Hair loss
- Some birth marks and moles
- Childhood conditions like scabies
- Treatment of warts
How do I find a dermatologist?
- Ask friends, family, workmates for any recommendations
- Ask to be referred by your doctor – you may be referred to a dermatologist working in a hospital, or in private practice
- Contact the New Zealand Dermatological Society – see details below
- Visit Yellow Pages telephone book or online
What will a dermatologist do?
Take a detailed history of your medical condition, to find the origin of the problem you or your children are presenting with. For instance, if your child has eczema the dermatologist will want to ascertain if they have other allergic conditions, such as asthma.
Once the history has been taken, the dermatologist will want to examine you/your child and may switch on a special light to examine the skin. If necessary they will take swabs for culture, a biopsy for testing, or perform other medical and blood tests.
By taking a biopsy, or small portion of the affected skin, the dermatologist can ask the laboratory to analyse the skin condition and determine which drugs or creams might best treat it.
Once the diagnosis is made the dermatologist will prescribe medication (drugs or creams) if needed and talk to you about surgical or other options they feel might best benefit you.
What can I do to help my skin?
- Avoid allowing yourself or your children to ever be sunburned
- Use a high factor sun cream and re-apply regularly, especially after being in water
- Limit time in the sun between 11am-4pm
- Wear cool cotton clothes which cover the skin
- Wear a broad brimmed hat
- Encourage children to play in the shade by putting outdoor toys, such as sandpits, in the shade.
In addition to this:
- Be aware of skin contact with different chemicals and limit exposure – for instance, avoid harsh household cleaners or wear gloves if working with them
- Keep an eye on your skin for any changes in a freckle or mole that might indicate skin cancer
- Seek quick attention for any skin conditions you are worried about
Useful websites & articles on dermatology and skin
Sun Safety at School is a big issue in New Zealand. This Kiwi Families article has some great advice.
Website of The New Zealand Dermatological Society which provides a wonderful resource to discover information about skin conditions.