What is the difference between an aesthetic doctor and a dermatologist? How do I decide which is more suitable for my needs?

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Doctor’s Answer (3)

Patients sometimes confuse aesthetic doctors with dermatologists and they are usually surprised to learn that there are in fact only 132 dermatologists in the whole of Singapore. Please refer to http://www.dermatology.org.sg/about-us/member-dermatologists/ for the list of dermatologists who are members of Dermatological Society of Singapore (DSS). Differences include the following: 

  1. Differences in qualifications

Becoming an accredited dermatologist/ skin specialist in Singapore requires at least 6 years of post-graduate training after medical school, of which the last 3 years involve intensive and specialist training in all areas of the skin, hair, nails and sexually transmitted infections. Many dermatologists have FAMS (Dermatology) as part of their qualifications. Such specialist accreditation is similar to other specialists in their fields, for example a cardiologist is a specialist for the heart and an obstetrician is a specialist in childbirth.                          

An aesthetic doctor, on the other hand, is usually a general practitioner, who has an interest in the aesthetic improvement of the skin but has not undertaken the specialist training nor received the specialist accreditation. Aesthetic medicine is currently not recognised specialty in Singapore. An aesthetic doctor may have attained certificate, diploma or masters courses that often involve online or distance learning. Qualifications such as Dip Derm (Diploma) or MSc Derm (Masters) which some aesthetic doctors possess do not mean specialist accreditation in Dermatology.

The public can also check against the Singapore Medical Council website https://prs.moh.gov.sg/prs/internet/profSearch/main.action?hpe=SMC by typing the name of the doctor to view if the type of register the doctor is registered under (medical practitioner vs medical practitioner and specialist). However in this link, the type of specialist is not specified.

  1. Differences in range of conditions treated

A dermatologist is trained to expertly treat the following:

  • Any patient young or old with a skin problem
  • Any medical issues involving skin, hair or nails
  • Any aesthetic issues involving the skin, hair or nails
  • Any sexually transmitted infections

Most dermatologists will have further subspecialty training and interest in various areas such as skin cancers, skin surgeries, paediatric dermatology, aesthetics, venereology, immunological diseases of the skin, drug eruptions, dermatopathology etc.

The bulk of an aesthetic doctor’s practice is targeted at aesthetic improvement of the skin.

  1. Differences in additional courses required

Dermatologists can carry out aesthetic procedures such as lasers, chemical peels, botulinum toxin injections and fillers as part of their daily practice without the need for further certification as adequate training and experience will have been gained during their specialty training and as part and parcel of their work.

However, aesthetic doctors need to complete Certificate of Competency Courses in order to carry out aesthetic procedures such as lasers, peels, botulinum toxin injections and fillers in their clinic. These half-day Certificate of Competency Courses for various aesthetic/ cosmetic procedures are provided by the Dermatological Society of Singapore with National Skin Centre for general practitioner who wish to perform aesthetic procedures which require certifcation.

  1. Should you see a dermatologist or an aesthetic doctor?

In general, a patient with a serious medical or surgical skin problem should seek help from a dermatologist as they have the specialist training and experience to treat a much wider range of skin related issues and illnesses.

If a patient has an aesthetic problem, a dermatologist or a trained / certified experienced aesthetic doctor can help.

Dr Lim Yen Loo, on behalf of Dermatology Society of Singapore

A dermatologist is a specialist trained in managing disease in the skin.

An aesthetic doctor is usually a general practitioner with a specific interest in aesthetic medicine, even though there are some specialists from other medical fields that also choose to focus on only doing aesthetic medicine (commonly general surgeons and gynaecologists).

Aesthetic medicine is not recognized as a formal medical specialty yet in most parts of the world, because it is very new, and many healthcare systems in the world do not provide formal training in aesthetic medicine. There is no formal global certification or standard for aesthetic medicine worldwide, and most courses are conducted by commercial companies or smaller independent organisations.

Singapore's aesthetic doctors are very active in the international community of aesthetic medicine. They also perform the bulk of aesthetic cases locally. Local and international aesthetic conferences are usually a vibrant mix of plastic surgeons, dermatologists as well as aesthetic doctors. In fact, I'm writing this having just returned from 3 days of sharing about facial injectables to a group of dermatologists, plastic surgeons as well as aesthetic doctors in the international arena. And I will be attending a course by a gynecologist who is also an aesthetic practictioner next.

Dermatologists are the experts on skin diseases, which is also the bulk of their medical training and work. I frequently refer complex cases of skin diseases to my dermatologist colleagues, and it is the job of an aesthetic GP to manage the more simple and common skin conditions (uncomplicated eczema/acne etc) and only send warranted referrals to skin specialists!

If you think you have a serious skin condition - please visit a dermatologist! If it is an aesthetic concern, both should be able to help you. Aesthetic medicine employs the use of many medical devices and injectable treatments, so DYOD to see if a particular clinic has a wide range of options!

Hope this was useful.

Thank you for posing this question. There are a few differences between Aesthetic doctors and Dermatologists.

1. Dermatologists are accredited specialists by the Ministry of Health, which means that they have undergone rigorous post-graduate examinations and specialist training in the field of Dermatology (all skin-related problems) for many years after graduating with a basic medical degree. 

On the other hand, aesthetic doctors have a basic medical degree, but they are not specialists as they did not continue with training and examinations required for post-graduate specialist qualifications. Some aesthetic doctors have diplomas, but these are definitely not equivalent to specialist dermatology training as the structure and time spent on training is vastly different.

2. Dermatologists are the experts to treat all skin-related problems, ranging from drug allergy reactions, skin infections, blistering disorders, childrens' skin problems, skin cancer and surgery to hair and nail issues. In addition, they also address aesthetic concerns such as pigmentation, skin aging issues and perform both invasive and non-invasive procedures. Very often dermatologists also attend to complications arising from treatment by non-specialists, eg skin burns, scarring. 

On the other hand, aesthetic doctors provide treatment targeted towards cosmetic concerns and they do not treat medical skin problems as mentioned above.

3. Regarding your concern about pigmentation, a dermatologist is well versed in treating various types of pigmentation. He/she will be able to explain to you in detail the cause and contributing factors to your pigmentation. Treatment can range from topical creams to chemical peels, lasers, oral supplements and medications.

I hope the above information was useful.

Best regards,

Dr Ker Khor Jia (Consultant Dermatologist)

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