How To Navigate Your Dermatologist Appointment

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
If I could only give one piece of beauty advice, it would be this: Visit your dermatologist. Your friendly derm is the key to solving every skin issue you could possibly have — whether it's flakes, pimples, dark spots, or anything else. And since good skin care is the basis of good makeup application, it's an investment in the foundation of the house that is your beauty routine.

Despite my chest-pounding declarations of the magic of dermatology, there are still plenty of people out there who don't take advantage. I can understand that: You're busy, you're managing your acne just fine with over-the-counter cures, and it's one more appointment to add to your already packed calendar. But there may be another reason that's holding you back: Derm visits are different from other doctor visits, and can seem a little daunting.

Well, that's where we come in. We chatted with two top dermatologists — Sejal Shah, MD, and Ted Lain, MD — about everything you need to know before your first visit. From what to bring to how to figure out your insurance, here's how to make sure your first appointment goes swimmingly.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
First things first: How the heck do you even go about finding a dermatologist? Both Dr. Shah and Dr. Lain agree that a referral from your primary-care doctor is probably your best bet. "That's the first person you should talk to," Dr. Lain says. "They'll have feedback from their patients. Just call their office and ask who they refer to."

Dr. Shah suggests doing a little more digging if you're looking for help with something specific. "For something like psoriasis or eczema, you may want to see a specialist," she says. Dr. Lain says this is especially helpful if you live in or near a city with a medical school, since med schools have clinics with specialties.

There's also ZocDoc, which operates in the vast majority of cities across the U.S. (See the full list here.) Just download the app, plug in your location, the doctor's specialty, and your insurance info, and ZocDoc will match you with doctors with available appointments near you. It's a similar process to finding a doctor through your insurance's website — which Dr. Shah says is also a good idea. "Just make sure you mention your insurance when you call to make your appointment," she advises. "Some doctors may accept United, for example, but don't accept every form of insurance from United."

There's also always word of mouth. Ask your friends where they go and take it from there.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Make sure you're well-acquainted with your insurance before you even step foot in your dermatologist's office. "Know your deductible and whether or not you've met it yet," Dr. Lain advises. Dr. Shah echoes this sentiment. "I wish everyone knew what a deductible is," she says. For those of you in need of a refresher, that's the amount of money you have to pay out-of-pocket before your insurance starts covering your costs. "If your deductible is really high and you haven't hit it yet, you're going to get billed for the visit," Dr. Shah says.

A deductible is different from a co-pay — the amount that's due to the doctor per office visit after you've cleared your deductible. People aren't always certain about what their co-pay is, and are blindsided when they have to pay up at the end of the visit. "It's my understanding that it's illegal for us to wave co-pays," Dr. Shah says. Also, do some research on what your insurance's preferred lab is in case you have to get something tested. It will help you avoid overpaying unnecessarily.

Bottom line? Educate yourself as to what you're likely going to have to pay. It will make the entire process go a lot smoother.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"We are definitely in a period of time [when] prescription medications are extremely expensive if you have to pay out-of-pocket," Dr. Shah says. Dr. Lain agrees. "A lot of the medication we use for dermatology is brand-name and not generic, because there's constantly innovation in dermatology," he says.

But because of this, plenty of brands utilize coupons, payment plans, and easy-access programs so you can get the meds you need. And you know who knows about all of these? Your dermatologist. So it's important to be transparent about what you can actually afford. "I will always figure out how to get patients the medication they need. I want them to get better," Dr. Lain says. "Be upfront about what you can reasonably afford. There's a lot of transparency now about what the consumer will pay, and it's pretty easy for doctors to know what that will be."
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You've found a doctor, checked out all of your insurance information, and made an appointment. Now what? Well, for starters, go barefaced. Dr. Lain says to wear as little makeup as possible and not to do your hair. "I'll likely take the makeup off, and if I'm doing a skin check I'll likely mess up your hair," he says. The doc has to see all of your skin, even your scalp, so make sure he or she is actually able to do that.

Dr. Lain also says to prepare a current medication list, including your vitamins and supplements. It's also helpful to know what medications, if any, you've taken in the past. "I don't want to have to reinvent the wheel," he says. "It's a waste of everyone's time to put you on something that has already failed and have it fail again." So if you've already been on, say, Doxycycline for acne definitely let your derm know that.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Before you even step foot in the office, make sure you have a list of what you want to talk about. "Make sure you prioritize that list, too," Dr. Shah says. You should get a skin check if this is your first visit. But beyond that, make sure you're clear on what you're looking for. Is acne a problem? Has a mole visibly changed recently?

"Sometimes issues run together, like acne and dark spots or acne and scarring," Dr. Shah says. "But know what your top two things are to discuss at the appointment. If there are less important points, they can always be discussed during a follow-up."
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
All of this is well and good, but what if there isn't a dermatologist near you? First, Dr. Lain says that your primary doctor can help with a lot of skin-related issues. "And if they can't, they'll be able to get you into a dermatologist more quickly than if you called on your own, especially if you're a new patient," he says.

Dr. Shah suggests teledermatology, which is an up-and-coming sector of the dermatology world. Basically, a dermatologist can diagnose certain skin issues via video or photo sent from apps on your smartphone and then prescribe medicine based on the condition. A few companies do this — DermCheck and Curology being the two most popular — and it's so easy because it's all on your phone.

Keep in mind, though, that these services aren't covered by insurance, and their prices tend to be about the same as a co-pay. Also, they are not appropriate for full skin checks, warns Dr. Shah. "But if you have a mole that you don't know is dangerous or some acne you can't get to clear, they can evaluate that," she says. And if the online doc finds something that may be serious enough to warrant an in-office visit, he or she can help you find a specialist near you.
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