We’ve all cornered a friend or family member for advice on a skin concern at some point—What should I do? Do you think it will go away on its own?—but when is it time to seek real medical advice? To help you determine when it’s necessary to make an appointment with your dermatologist (and when you can heed your mom’s advice to “leave it alone”), we went straight to an expert.
We tapped Dr. Gary Goldfaden, practicing dermatologist, member of The American Academy of Dermatology, and the creator of Goldfaden MD skincare products, for his professional opinion on topics like chronic breakouts, severe dry skin, hives, and much more.
“In general, if you’re having a skin problem and it’s getting worse, or not improving, it’s wise to see a dermatologist,” Dr. Goldfaden told us. In fact, you may be making your concern worse by treating it at home. “Many people start with one rash, and by the time they see us they have a whole new rash [from the over-the-counter products they’re using to treat it],” he says. How can you avoid this?
Click through our slideshow for our Q&A with Dr. Goldfaden!
This varies, depending on many factors, but Dr. Goldfaden says that 30 is an ideal age to start. Those who live in a sunny climate with constant sun exposure, or have fair skin, should start earlier. Those with darker complexions, or who live in colder climates, can start a little later.
“There is something called the ABCs of moles, but in general, if an older mole is changing in size, shape, or color, or has become itchy, you need to have it checked out,” he says. “New moles that are black or very dark brown should also be examined.”
“Dry skin should respond to hydration from lubricating products like lotions and creams,” Goldfaden told us. First take into account your environment, Goldfaden notes that it’s harder to keep skin hydrated in dry, cold weather, so try a richer product. If you still can’t cure your dry itchy skin, it could be a sign of a larger problem, like a side effect of medication, or a hereditary condition, that a derm can help diagnose.
“Rosasea is defined in many different ways, and there are many different stages,” Goldfaden says. “That being said, by the time someone goes to a dermatologist they’ve probably exhausted all of the over-the-counter options and a prescription product can normally get it under control fairly rapidly.”
“Probably not,” Goldfaden says. “What’s happening is an irritability of the blood vessels; it’s a blushing mechanism and probably not cause for alarm.” Goldfaden says that the best way to treat flushing of the face is to avoid the food or drink that causes the reaction.
“Hives are a particularly bothersome problem for some people,” Dr. Goldfaden says. If they last for a day or two and go away, it’s probably fine, he says. However, if you’re getting hives regularly, they last longer than a day or two, or are popping up on very undesirable locations, like your eyelids and lips, head to your doctor for help.
This one is tricky. Just like rosacea, the word rash can mean different things. In general, a rash is something that’s new, irritated, red, and/or itchy, and can be caused by an allergic reaction to something you touched or consumed, Dr. Goldfaden says. The general rule of thumb to determine treatment is whether or not the rash is getting better or worse. If it’s getting better within a few days you can normally just watch it, but if it’s getting worse or staying the same, you need to see a doctor.
If you have acne that’s chronic and inflamed, spreading to other parts of your body, or leaving scars and marks, you need to see a dermatologist, Dr. Goldfaden says. Self treatment—like a cream or mask—is best if you’re having an occasional pimple that’s either totally random or linked to a hormonal change.