How to Know When You Need a Dermatologist

Skin is so much more than "that thing covering your pretty face." It's our body's largest organ, and as such it protects us from the elements, helps regulate our body temperature, and lets us feel things — human touch, the crisp bite of the first snowflake, the goosebumps we get from a really great poetry reading. (And the confused tingling we feel when an article about skin care mentions poetry.)

Dermatologists specialize in treating this important organ, and if you think they're just there for vanity procedures like Botox and microdermabrasion, you're very wrong. You should definitely have a dermatologist in your corner — or at least in your phone book — in case of the following:

1. Your acne gets way worse

A mild breakout can just mean you're stressed (or hormonal), but if your acne qualifies as severe — maybe because of a new medication or lifestyle change — and/or if it won't respond to over-the-counter treatments, a dermatologist can help you get it under control.

2. You haven't been able to fix that one irritating skin problem

If you've been using over-the-counter medication for a rash, or continually moisturizing that one dry patch of skin, and it's not getting any better, a dermatologist will give you the extra-strength treatment you need.

3. You have a chronic skin condition that needs professional care

There are plenty of DIY treatments pitched toward chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea, but before you go crazy with the mashed bananas and yogurt masks, check in with a dermatologist. Even if you want to go au naturel, run your plan by an expert first.

4. You need something fixed quickly

Annoying little skin issues like poison ivy, mild allergic reactions, and the red marks that appear after a pimple will typically vanish on their own — but it takes a while. If you desperately need them gone (wedding? State of the Union? prom?), a dermatologist can prescribe you a fast-acting, extra-strength treatment cream or zap the problem spot with a laser to clear you right up.

5. You need a cosmetic procedure

Dermatologists can help with serious scarring, cellulite, furrowed brows, skin discoloration, and other things that aren't life or death — but are definitely not fun.

And last, but absolutely not least:

6. You've got a suspicious mole

Any mark on your body that doesn't pass the skin cancer ABCDE test should be dragged on over to the dermatologist like an unruly child. A refresher course:

Asymmetry: When you draw a line through the spot, do both sides match? No? Dermatologist.Border: Are the borders of the spot irregular or blurred? Dermatologist.Color: Is mole made up of more than one color? Has it lightened or darkened? Dermatologist.Diameter: Larger than the eraser of a pencil? Dermatologist.Evolving: Has the spot grown, shrunk, changed shape, changed color, changed height, or begun to itch or bleed? Say it with me now: D-E-R-M-A-T-O-L-O-G-I-S-T.

Once a month, get nude and check out all your moles and freckles to make sure they're behaving. And don't be afraid to go to the dermatologist. It doesn't mean you've failed at washing your face. It means you're on top of your very precious health.