Going to the Dermatologist for Your First Skin Check? Here’s What to Expect
When I was younger, I thought you only needed to visit the dermatologist if you suffered from severe acne, but as I’ve gotten older (and become a beauty editor) I’ve realized how essential it is to visit the dermatologist regardless of what condition your skin is in. The thought of skin cancer really pushed me to finally book an appointment. Though I’ve never had any questionable spots, I wanted a professional opinion because I have extremely fair skin and a few of my family members have had minor cancerous lesions.
I recently visited board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman at the Shafer Clinic in New York City for the first time, and the entire experience was a breeze. To get a better sense of what you can expect on your first dermatologist visit (and to calm any anxiety), keep reading for my firsthand account.
Once I was checked in, Dr. Engelman greeted me and instructed me to change into a hospital gown so she could easily complete a full body examination to check for any abnormal marks, moles or spots. Before the examination started, Dr. Engelman asked me some family history basics — like if skin cancer runs in my family and how many extreme sunburns I had experienced in my life. Since I am so fair-skinned, I tend to avoid the sun and have never used a tanning bed, which she said was ideal. “One of the benefits of being fair is you tend to automatically avoid the sun since you know you can’t tan,” she said.
The examination began at the top of my head, first focusing on the scalp — an area many people don’t think to check on their own. As she worked her way down, Dr. Engelman made me feel at ease as she explained her background in identifying skin cancer. “I’m looking for the ABCDEs of melanoma — asymmetry, irregular borders, abnormal color or multiple colors, diameter and evolving.” she explained.
I had one spot that I was semi-concerned about — a mole on my back that I’ve had for as long as I can remember, although I have never noticed any changes. Dr. Engelman explained that it was a congenital pattern nevus (a.k.a. a mole I’ve had since birth) which are very common, but should also be monitored for changes.
The full exam took about five minutes and Dr. Engelman gave me a clean review. She didn’t have any new recommendations for me other than to continue using a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. (I prefer La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Tinted Sunscreen for Face SPF 50.) Dr. Engelman also said that, based on my check and health history, I only need to be checked once a year, unless I notice any new growths or suspicious changes. (Doctors may recommend more frequent appointments for patients at higher risk of developing skin cancer.)
I was not expecting the appointment to go so quickly or smoothly — in fact I had no idea what to expect, which is why I had pushed off coming to the dermatologist for so long. Dr. Engelman told me that she hears this from a lot of patients. “I think the number one reason people are concerned or anxious about seeing the dermatologist is because they might have pain which typically goes along with having a biopsy,” she explained. “The number one thing I hear after we’re done is ‘that’s it? That was so easy. Why was I ever worried about that?’ because a vast majority of visits don’t end in biopsy. We’re really just looking you over and if there’s anything that needs to be addressed, we talk about it first.”
I’m glad I took that step to check on my skin, and I hope that my personal account encourages you to make a dermatologist appointment. After all, you can never be too cautious with your skin or your health.
Photo: Mary Honkus