Dermatologists can do more than just fix your skin.

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A large part of medical treatments for basic skin-care concerns, such as acne and mole removal are often covered by provincial health plans and must first be diagnosed through your family doctor. These concerns can then be treated by the family physician with an in-office procedure, or the doctor can refer their patient to a dermatologist, explains Dr. Sheetal Sapra, MD, FRCPC, a specialist at the Institute of Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Oakville, Ont. (icls.ca). While many people visit the dermatologist on their own, it’s often after a family doctor has  already seen them or for a cosmetic concern.

In addition to acne and other non-threatening skin conditions, such as psoriasis, rosacea and eczema, one of the most common concerns that dermatologists like Dr. Elena Poulos, MD, FRCPC, of Kingsway Dermatology, sees is complications linked to excess sun exposure. “People with a history of excess sun exposure over their lifetime or a personal or family history of skin cancer should familiarize themselves with the early signs of skin cancer. This includes the appearance of a new spot on the skin or nails or a change in a pre-existing spot. Everyone should seek out medical advice in a timely fashion if they notice a suspicious spot on their skin or nails,” she explains.

Nails

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When it comes to nails, some of the concerns seem pretty obvious, such as fungus and infection. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA), fungus and infections can be contracted from sharing or improperly sanitizing nail tools (such as in a nail salon or at home) or from public swimming pools, gym locker rooms or showers. However, fungus can also develop when nails are kept moist for extended periods of time. After visiting with a family physician who can refer a patient to a dermatologist for further testing and treatment, the dermatologist will take a sample of the nail and sometimes a scraping from the infection underneath. In some rarer cases, however, there can be  rare condition of subungual melanoma, which, as the CDA explains, is a form of skin cancer that develops beneath the surface of the nail and appears as a black or brown streak. As with many kinds of skin cancer, subungual melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, so immediate treatment is recommended.

According to Dr. Poulos, “Nutritional deficiencies, certain medications and hormonal imbalances are just a few of the possible causes” when it comes to brittle nails. Furthermore, the CDA explains that diabetes and chemotherapy treatments are common contributors to brittle nails.

Hair

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Hair loss is one of the main concerns when it comes to visiting a dermatologist,” explains Dr. Andrei Metelitsa, MD, FRCPC, FAAD, codirector of the Institute for Skin Advancement in Calgary. Alopecia, the technical term for this kind of hair loss, is “hair loss that upsets the cycle of hair loss and new growth—you start to lose more hair and start to grow back less to replace it,” according to the CDA. Oftentimes, the causes are genetic, but for others the loss can be related to stress or medication. As Dr. Sapra explains, “We look at the pattern of the hair loss and analyze the hair shaft and cuticle to get a diagnosis.” From there, a treatment such as Rogaine, is prescribed. On the cosmetic side, hair removal is a very common request, which is usually removed by laser.