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What is dermatology?

Last reviewed: May 2023

Author(s): Dr Sera Sarsam, Medical Officer, Royal Melbourne Hospital; Dr Neda So, Dermatology Registrar, Melbourne; and Dr Michelle Rodrigues, Dermatologist, Chroma Dermatology, Australia (2023)
Previous contributors: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist (1997)

Reviewing dermatologist: Dr Ian Coulson 

Edited by the DermNet content department



Dermatology is the medical discipline that is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the skin, hair, and nails in both children and adults. Specialists in dermatology are called dermatologists.

The New Zealand Dermatological Society’s definition is comprehensive:

Dermatology involves but is not limited to study, research, and diagnosis of normal and disorders, diseases, cancers, cosmetic and ageing conditions of the skin, fat, hair, nails and oral and genital membranes, and the management of these by different investigations and therapies, including but not limited to dermatohistopathology, topical and systemic medications, dermatologic surgery and dermatologic cosmetic surgery, immunotherapy, phototherapy, laser therapy, radiotherapy and photodynamic therapy.” 

How many people get skin disease?

The skin is the largest and most visible organ of the body. It reflects the health of the body and acts as a barrier against injury and bacteria.

Skin disorders are the fourth most frequent cause of all human disease, affecting between 30–70% of people worldwide. Most people develop some type of skin disease during their life, from infants to the elderly, and this is one of the leading reasons to seek medical advice in all societies.

What are the different fields of dermatology?

There are many fields and subspecialties within dermatology, including (but not limited to):

What are the most common skin disorders?

Common skin diseases include:

Dermatological examinations and procedures

See Dermatological investigations and tests for more detail.


A dermatoscope is a handheld medical device that employs a magnification illuminated lens system that assists in the identification and diagnosis of skin lesions. 

Microbiology samples

A swab can be taken from skin lesions with exudate or fluid to be examined for viral and bacterial cultures.

Skin scraping

A sample of scaly skin can be taken by scraping a disposable scalpel blade 90 degrees to the skin to collect surface dead skin cells for fungal examination.

Skin biopsy

This includes removal of a skin sample from the lesion of interest to be sent for histopathological examination. It is performed under local anaesthesia. There are different methods for taking a skin biopsy – including a shave biopsy, punch biopsy, or excision biopsy. It is useful in diagnosing many skin diseases including skin cancers and blistering skin conditions

Intralesional steroid injection

The injection of steroids into the skin is used in the management of different conditions such as hypertrophic or keloid scars, acne cysts, vitiligo, and alopecia.


This includes using narrow band ultraviolet (UV) radiation in treating various skin conditions such as eczema (atopic dermatitis), psoriasis, vitiligo, and pruritus

Research in dermatology

Research is an important component of dermatology, leading to many advances in the field and improved patient outcomes. Many dermatologists are involved in research, at both basic science and clinical levels.



  • Flohr C, Hay R. Putting the burden of skin diseases on the global map. Br J Dermatol. 2021;184 Supp 2:189-90. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19704. Journal
  • New Zealand Dermatological Society Inc. What is a Dermatologist? What is Dermatology? 2021. Accessed 2023. Available here
  • Richard MA, Paul C, Nijsten T, et al. Prevalence of most common skin diseases in Europe: a population‐based study. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2022;36(7):1088-96. doi: 10.1111/jdv.18050. Journal

On DermNet

Other websites


  • Gawkrodger D, Ardern-Jones MR. Dermatology: An Illustrated Colour Text. 6th ed. Elsevier; 2017.

Books about skin diseases


Related information

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