Understanding the Differences Between Medical and Cosmetic Dermatology

Skin health is multifaceted, encompassing a wide range of conditions and treatments. Dermatology can generally be divided into two primary categories: medical dermatology and cosmetic dermatology. While both are essential for comprehensive skin care, they address different needs and concerns. Let’s explore these two branches in detail, providing examples to illustrate their unique roles.

Medical Dermatology

Medical dermatology focuses on diagnosing, treating, and managing diseases and conditions that affect the skin, hair, and nails. The primary goal is to improve or maintain the health and function of the skin, often addressing issues that can cause significant discomfort, health risks, or reduced quality of life.

Common Conditions Treated in Medical Dermatology

  • This is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting people of all ages. Treatment can include topical medications, oral antibiotics, hormonal treatments, or advanced therapies like isotretinoin for severe cases. Our physician assistant, Karla Horton, talks in-depth about acne on our website.
  • Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis). A chronic condition that causes itchy, inflamed skin. Management includes moisturizing treatments, steroid creams, and newer biologic medications that target specific pathways in the immune system. Zellman goes into detail about this very common skin condition, including the different types of dermatitis that exist, and how we treat them.
  • An autoimmune condition that leads to rapid skin cell turnover, causing scaling and inflammation. Treatments range from topical treatments and phototherapy to systemic therapies and biologic drugs.
  • Skin Cancer. Early detection and treatment of skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma are critical. Treatments may include surgical excision, Mohs surgery, cryotherapy, and topical or systemic medications.
  • Characterized by facial redness and sometimes pimples. Treatments include topical medications, oral antibiotics, and laser therapy.
  • Fungal Infections. Conditions like athlete’s foot, ringworm, and nail fungus are treated with antifungal creams, oral medications, or medicated shampoos.
  • Melasma is a common skin condition that causes brown patches on the cheeks, forehead, upper lip or chin. Sun exposure, pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone therapy and heredity factors are the most common causes of melasma, which can be treated with prescription medications and chemical peels.
  • Vitiligo is a patterned loss of melanin pigment resulting from the destruction of melanocytes. We have had success bringing back pigment to skin affected by vitiligo by treating this condition with laser therapy and/or phototherapy.

Cosmetic Dermatology

Cosmetic dermatology focuses on enhancing the appearance of the skin, hair, and nails. This branch addresses aesthetic concerns rather than medical conditions, helping patients achieve their desired look and boost their confidence. Cosmetic dermatologists use a variety of procedures and treatments to improve skin texture, tone, and overall appearance.

Common Procedures in Cosmetic Dermatology

  • Botox and Dermal Fillers. Botox injections temporarily relax facial muscles to reduce wrinkles, while dermal fillers add volume to areas like the cheeks, lips, and under-eye hollows. These treatments are popular for their quick results and minimal downtime.
  • Laser Treatments. Lasers can address a variety of concerns, including hair removal, skin resurfacing, and treatment of pigmentation issues like age spots or melasma. Fractional laser treatments can improve skin texture and reduce scars. Our Gentle Max vascular laser even treats the redness caused by spider veins and rosacea.
  • Chemical Peels. These involve applying a chemical solution to exfoliate the top layers of skin, revealing smoother, fresher skin underneath. Peels can improve acne scars, fine lines, and pigmentation irregularities. We offer a variety of peels at Arizona Dermatology, including the powerful, yet non-damaging Vitalize Peel, the light Alpha Beta Acid peel, and peels formulated specifically for acne, such as the Salicylic Acid peel and the Modified Jessner’s Peel.
  • Microneedling. This procedure uses fine needles to create tiny punctures in the skin, stimulating collagen production. It’s effective for reducing scars, fine lines, and improving overall skin texture.
  • A minimally invasive procedure that gently exfoliates the skin to improve tone and texture. It’s often used to treat light scarring, discoloration, and sun damage.

The Overlap Between Medical and Cosmetic Dermatology

While medical and cosmetic dermatology are distinct, there is often overlap. For example, acne treatment is primarily a medical concern, but it can also have significant cosmetic implications. Treating acne not only improves skin health but also enhances appearance, boosting a patient’s self-esteem.

Another example is the treatment of scars. Whether from surgery, trauma, or acne, scars can be medically significant and cosmetically undesirable. Treatments might include laser therapy, microneedling, or chemical peels, bridging the gap between medical necessity and cosmetic improvement.

At Arizona Dermatology, our team of experienced dermatologists is equipped to handle a wide range of conditions and concerns, ensuring that your skin is not only healthy but also radiant. Whether you’re dealing with a chronic skin condition or looking to enhance your appearance, we are here to help you achieve your skin health goals. Visit our website to learn more about our services and how we can assist you on your journey to better skin health and beauty.