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Guide to Dermatology

What Is Dermatology?

Dermatology is a field of medicine focused on the diagnosis and management of diseases that affect the skin, the largest organ of the human body. It also deals with the treatment of conditions related to the hair, nails, mucous membranes, and tissues within the eyelids, mouth, and nose.

Who Are Dermatologists?

Dermatologists are specialist doctors with expertise in diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions affecting the skin, nails, and hair.

Medical dermatology training in Singapore requires five years of medical school and three years of internal medicine training. A further three years of advanced specialist training are provided at a recognised Singapore dermatology institute. Only doctors certified by the Ministry of Health (MOH) as a dermatologist, can be considered one.

What Are the Common Conditions Treated by a Dermatologist?

Dermatologists, or skin specialists, treat a wide range of conditions affecting the skin, nails, and hair. Common ones include:

  • Acne
    This is the most common skin problem in which the pores of the skin are blocked with oil (sebum) and dead skin cells, resulting in whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and scarring.
  • Eczema
    Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is a chronic skin condition characterised by severe dryness, flakiness, inflammation and irritation due to the weakening of the skin barrier function.
  • Psoriasis
    This is an autoimmune disease that produces rashes with red, scaly patches (plaques) that are usually found on the scalp, elbows, knees and trunk.
  • Hyperpigmentation
    This refers to the darkening of parts of the skin, typically in the form of black, brown, or red spots, as a result of damaged skin cells that have an excessive amount of melanin.
  • Warts
    These are viral skin infections caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), characterised by flesh-coloured bumps that appear on the face and nails.
  • Birthmarks
    These discoloured spots or growths that occur in the skin and develop at birth. While most are harmless, some may require treatment.

  • Wrinkles
    Facial wrinkles are lines in the skin that develop with age and can be caused by excessive smoking or prolonged exposure to the sun.
  • Scars
    These are formed during the body's healing process, in which fibrous tissue replaces damaged skin due to acne, burns, trauma, surgery, or bacterial infection.
  • Moles
    Known as nevus, moles are growths formed by pigment-producing cells (melanocytes), which appear on the skin as dark, brown or flesh-coloured lesions.
  • Skin Allergy
    This results from the immune system reacting to something that is normally harmless. Skin allergies include hives, rashes, bumps, itching, burning and swelling.
  • Hair Loss
    This refers to a condition where hair sheds excessively, which leads to permanent thinning or balding of the scalp.
  • Skin Cancer
    This can develop as a result of skin damage from prolonged UV exposure.

When Should You See a Dermatologist?

There are several reasons why a patient should consider consulting a dermatologist, including:

  • Changing Appearance of Moles - A change in the size, shape, or colour of a mole or skin patch may indicate the presence of skin cancer and should be promptly checked out.
  • Chronic Skin Irritation - Long-term irritation of the skin may develop when repeated skin redness and scaliness are not relieved by over-the-counter creams and ointments.
  • Severe Acne - Seeing a dermatologist for a specialised treatment plan is recommended when acne fails to respond to general skin care, such as topical creams and using different types of facewash.
  • Facial Scarring - Dermatologists offer effective treatments to minimise the appearance of scars caused by acne, blemishes, scrapes, and burns.
  • Nail Disorders - It is helpful to visit a dermatologist in order to detect nail problems, such as discoloration, infections or lesions, as they may be an indicator of underlying health issues.
  • Hair Loss - Dermatologists can prescribe evidence-based treatments to increase hair growth for patients suffering from bald patches and thinning hair.
  • Signs of Ageing - Dermatologists prescribe skin care treatments to improve skin elasticity and reduce signs of ageing, including wrinkles, dryness and discoloration (age spots), for a more youthful and rejuvenated appearance.

How Are Dermatology Conditions/Skin Diseases Diagnosed?

Dermatological conditions or skin diseases can be identified by one or more of the following tests:

  • Skin Biopsy - This procedure involves the removal of a portion of the skin with a scalpel for laboratory analysis in order to detect skin cancer or other noncancerous conditions.
  • Skin Patch Test - This test administers a substance or allergen directly to the patient's skin to determine the severity of their allergic reaction.
  • Culture - During this procedure, a skin sample is obtained to assess whether microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi, are present on the skin and causing infection.
  • Dermoscopy - This method involves the use of a portable device (dermatoscope) to examine lesions on the skin.

How to Choose the Right Dermatologist for You

When selecting a dermatologist, the following factors should be taken into account:

  • Referrals - Seeking a referral from family, friends, or a primary healthcare provider is an effective way to find an experienced and pleasant dermatologist.
  • Research Their Credentials – In Singapore, your dermatologist should be accredited by the Ministry of Health. It will also be a bonus if they have held senior positions at various dermatological organisations or hospitals before.
  • Know Their Experience - Choose a dermatologist who has extensive experience treating a wide variety of skin conditions, with years of experience under their belt.
  • Research Patient Reviews - Read other patients' reviews to get a good idea of how the doctor, clinic, staff and outcomes are normally like for others.
  • Know What Your Insurance Covers - Choose a dermatologist who is covered by your insurance plan to receive maximum coverage for doctor's fees and other medical expenses in eligible cases.

What to Expect on Your Visit to a Dermatology Clinic

Planning Ahead

Before visiting a dermatology clinic, patients should prepare a list of questions regarding the procedure. They should also provide an overview of all of their current medications and supplements so that a suitable treatment plan can be determined. If possible, refrain from wearing jewellery, nail polish or makeup while having your skin examined to provide a more precise and in-depth diagnosis.

Meeting with the Dermatologist

A visit to a dermatologist should be a comfortable and pleasant experience, as the doctor will ask many questions regarding the patient’s medical history and the signs, symptoms, possible triggers and behaviour of the skin condition. Communicating effectively with the skin specialist will enable them to fully understand your concerns and come up with an appropriate treatment plan for you.

With over 20 years of experience, Dr Cheong Lai Leng is an experienced dermatologist in Singapore with subspecialties in surgical dermatology and cosmetic dermatology. She is an MOH-accredited skin specialist who provides comprehensive dermatology care for a complete range of skin, hair, and nail conditions.

Dr Cheong has lectured at medical conferences and public events, and is a Corresponding Fellow of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. She has held leadership roles within the Dermatological Society of Singapore, where she strived to maintain high standards in the field. For enquiries, call 6836 1480.