April 23, 2009

Before you go

Check out the services.

If your concerns are mainly cosmetic (you want to ward off wrinkles or erase sun spots), go to a dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic treatments. But if your concerns are more medical (say, you have cystic acne or eczema or suspect you might have skin cancer), stick with a medical-based practice, suggests Alexa Boer Kimball, M.D., M.P.H., director of dermatology clinical trials at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. If you have an uncommon condition, consider an academic medical center, which is more likely to be up-to-date on new research.

Go au naturel.

Wash your face -- makeup can camouflage problems. And forget about showing off a manicure or pedicure: "Patients should take their nail polish off if they're having a skin check, since moles [and melanomas] sometimes hide underneath the nails," Kimball explains.

Bring your beauty supplies.

If you suspect you're allergic to a skin-care product, bring in everything you use on your face and body, including makeup and sunscreen. "It's much better than telling your dermatologist, 'I think it's a white cream in a blue tube,'" Kimball says.

During the visit

Take notes.

"Dermatologists are notorious for recommending multiple medicines for different areas of the body, so it's a good idea to write everything down," Kimball says.

Don't be modest.

You can keep your underwear on during a full-body skin check, but it precludes a more thorough exam. Melanomas, and other serious conditions, do occur on the genitals.