A few years ago I started to get really into skin care. Like, really into it. Like spend-a-lot-of-money-on-all-the-trendy-pricy-serums into it. If someone on Instagram was using an $89 tube of retinol on their face, so was I. If someone on Pinterest was using a fancy neck cream, I was Googling “fancy neck creams.” I wanted it all, at the same time, and I wanted it all to work.
After a few weeks and a few hundred dollars, I was pleased to announce I saw ... absolutely no change. WTF?!
You know what’s kind of funny? Um, well, as it turns out, everyone has different skin. So the product that's working wonders for Instagramming Isabelle down in Miami might do absolutely nothing for you, and that lotion you swear is making your skin all glowy and dewy might make someone else’s face break out. We all react differently and need different things to fulfill our #skingoals and it’s best you know that now before storming Sephora to spend a paycheck on a regimen that’s just not going to work for you.
But how do we know what regimen will?
It may seem totally unsexy, but a dermatologist holds all of the answers, and the answers usually come in the form of label-free little bottles with no cute packaging. I know, I know. You want the cute packaging. Stay with me.
Start by scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist. If you’ve never been before, don’t be afraid! They are totally equipped to handle even the weirdest skin questions. You can ask friends for recommendations or check an app like ZocDoc to see if there are any dermatologists in your area that will take your insurance.
First things first, ask for a "full head-to-toe skin cancer screening" to make sure everything looks healthy, advises Dr. Jessica Weiser of Weiser Skin in New York City: "Prevention is key!"
Then you can ask anything about your skin, hair or nails. Weiser assures us your dermatologist has seen it all, so don’t be embarrassed about any “weird” questions. “I have removed melanoma from buttocks,” she says.
After you get that initial head-to-toe screening, here's a little checklist to help you get the most out of your appointment:
1. Ask about the products you currently use
If you’re interested in finding out what your skin truly needs from a beauty perspective, don’t wear makeup to your appointment. My face is really red and I have a drawer of makeup that I put on each morning to hide that redness. During my appointment, my dermatologist was able to take a look at my naked face and get a better idea of what I needed because I wasn’t trying to cover issue spots with foundation.
Get your derm to set you up with a regimen of over-the-counter products you can use to achieve your skin care goals. You can also bring in the products you currently use and you and your doctor can go through them together so she can advise what you should be using more or less of.
2. Ask for definitions!
What is benzoyl peroxide? What is hyaluronic acid? What is Botox, actually? Does eye cream work? Come prepared with your list of inquiries where Google isn't cutting it.
3. Find out about follow-ups
Ask your derm for a schedule of maintenance appointments — how often do you need to get your body checked for new moles or freckles? When is a skin abnormality like a rash something you can fix at home and when is it time to call your dermatologist? What should you be doing when you leave the office?
4. Ask about allergies
Can your dermatologist give you an allergy test in their office? It depends, according to Dr. Weiser. “Allergies that present as a red scaly rash are usually due to something coming into contact with the skin — like a new soap, skin care product, or laundry detergent. If you’re getting hives or allover itching, those are more commonly associated with internal allergies like foods, environmental allergens, etc. and should be evaluated by an allergist.”
5. Check in about trends
If you've been curious about buzzy procedures and products, now's the time to ask what's actually worth it — and what's not. Maybe your derm thinks you’d benefit from a monthly facial or some Botox. Maybe they want to warn you against the new viral skin care fad. Make a note of the things you've been wondering about so you can get their expert opinion.
6. Ask what information would make their job easier
Maybe they want you to call your parents and find out about your family’s history of skin diseases. Maybe they want to know how often you got sunburned as a kid. Do you get the same zit in the same place every time you’re premenstrual? Tell them, because maybe they have a solution for you! You are the only one who can fill in their blanks, so see what questions they want answered.