Your hair brush seems to collect a few more hairs than the day before. There’s a new mole on your forearm. Your face turns bright red in certain situations. These are common events, which are—in most cases—nothing of concern.
So, when is a change in color, texture or other skin feature something to worry about? And how do you know when to see a dermatologist? Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ashley Magovern tells us what’s normal and what might warrant an expert’s opinion. And—because dermatologists don’t just specialize in skin concerns—you’ll see concerns related to the hair and nails as well.
Important Note: While we can provide you with expert information, we cannot offer a diagnosis or treatment recommendations. If you are concerned about any of the issues below (or a related issue), visit a dermatologist.
- Normal: Few, small inflammatory bumps or papules throughout adolescence and young adulthood
- Not Normal: Feeling like most days you have acne bumps or blemishes and not being able to control them with over-the-counter options
Adults are not immune to breakouts, and there’s a lot more that could be causing pimples than you might think. This could be anything from using the wrong cleanser to an imbalance of something internal. If your acne is more than just an occasional annoyance and you can’t seem to get rid of it, contact a dermatologist.
Related Reading: 5 Things You Need to Know About Adult Acne
2. Cold Sores
- Normal: Rare lesion once or twice a year
- Not Normal: Breakouts every month
Cold sores, aka fever blisters or oral herpes, are due to an infection of the lips, mouth or gums. They’re small, often painful blisters that show up on or near the mouth. They should go away on their own, but if they persist or appear more frequently than once or twice a year, it’s time to talk to a doctor.
Related Reading: How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore, Fast
- Normal: Occasional little flakes that can be controlled with over-the-counter shampoos
- Not Normal: Thicker, scaly, itchy patches, especially if it affects work and social life
Mild dandruff can often be controlled with specialized shampoos and treatments. However, like Dr. Magovern notes, if your itchy scalp and flakes are getting in the way of your everyday life, you should seek medical advice. Severe or worsening dandruff might be caused by stress, environmental changes or imbalances within your body.
Related Reading: 4 Ways to Get Rid of Dandruff Caused by Seborrheic Dermatitis
4. Hair Loss
- Normal: Losing up to 150 hairs per day
- Not Normal: Noticing bald patches in the shapes of circles on your scalp
Your hair is constantly growing and replacing itself, which is why losing up to 150 hairs per day is completely normal. However, excessive hair loss—or hair that is falling out in patches—is a sign of something abnormal. This might be caused by excessive hair dyeing or overuse of hot styling tools, certain medications, hormone imbalances or high levels of stress.
Related Reading: Thinning Hair: Are You at Risk?
5. Nail Issues
- Normal: Occasional brittle feeling
- Not Normal: Nail lifts off the nail bed or nail becomes thickened
When your nail separates from the nail bed, it could be due to skin disease, an infection or a recent injury. Your doctor can help determine which of these is causing your nail issues in order to recommend the best treatment option. Thickening nails, on the other hand, might be caused by nail psoriasis, which can be treated with topical or oral prescription medications.
Related Reading: 5 Dos and Don’ts for Longer, Stronger Nails
6. Skin Rash
- Normal: Normal skin
- Not Normal: Circular rash with raised borders
Skin rashes can be itchy, painful, warm to the touch or just plain annoying. While different types of rashes can be caused by anything from sensitivity to a skin care product to a skin condition, some rashes deserve more attention. A circular rash with raised borders, as Dr. Magovern points out, could be a sign of ringworm, a contagious (but treatable) fungus.
Related Reading: The Difference Between Sensitive Skin Conditions and Skin Disorders
- Normal: People with sensitive skin may have a few mild itchy patches on the skin that resolve easily
- Not Normal: Itchy patches that start to affect quality of life and sleep and don’t respond easily to over-the-counter hydrocortisones
Though you can avoid your triggers and try over-the-counter treatments, you might still be struggling with getting your eczema under control. If your flare-ups are getting in the way of your normal life, a dermatologist may be able to provide you with alternative options.
Related Reading: Understanding Eczema: What Is It, and Can I Get Rid of It?
- Normal: Normal skin or rare/mild scattered psoriatic patches
- Not Normal: Feeling like entire body is covered with psoriatic patches and/or when your psoriasis affects your personal and work life
An autoimmune condition, psoriasis can be made worse by certain environmental factors and other health concerns. If you are struggling to get your psoriasis under control, it may be time to book an appointment with your dermatologist.
Related Reading: What Dermatologists Want You to Know About Psoriasis
9. Skin Aging
- Normal: Loss of elasticity, loss of volume in the face and development of lines and wrinkles over time
- Not Normal: Premature aging with early onset wrinkling, dark spots and loss of skin luster and tone. The sun is the main culprit.
The sun, pollution, your skin care routine and certain lifestyle habits can affect how quickly your skin ages. If your skin seems to be showing signs of aging more quickly than it should, your dermatologist may recommend a change in your skin care routine.
Related Reading: Must-Have Skin Care Products for Your Age (and Why)
10. Skin Lesion
- Normal: Freckle, sun or age spot
- Not Normal: Persistent, non-healing lesion, especially on sun-exposed areas, may be a sign of a skin cancer
While freckles, moles and other skin spots may not be inherently bad, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on them. Like Dr. Magovern says, if you have a persistent lesion—especially one that changes, is uneven or is larger than a pencil eraser—it’s always better to get it checked out.
Related Reading: Dermatologists Decode What Those Unexplained Spots Mean
- Normal: Mild redness and broken vessels favoring the cheeks and mid-face area
- Not Normal: Red, sensitive, painful skin, sometimes combined with acne-type breakouts
Every person with rosacea is different, with different triggers and different reactions to them. Your doctor can help you determine what’s causing your flare-ups and whether something else is exacerbating your skin condition.
Related Reading: 8 Telltale Signs You Have Rosacea
12. Skin Discoloration
- Normal: Clear skin, or few scattered pesky brown spots that get worse in the sun
- Not Normal: Persistent blotchy brown pigment favoring forehead, cheeks and upper lip (may be associated with pregnancy and birth control pills)
Hormone changes, like Dr. Magovern says, can be to blame for skin discolorations. So can sun damage, skin injuries, excess melanin or skin cancers. If you’re noticing blotches or new spots on your skin, it may be time to see a doctor about them.
Related Reading: What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
13. Eyelash Thinning
- Normal: Gradual thinning of lashes with age
- Not Normal: Loss or thinning of lashes due to metabolic imbalances or from chemical/heat damage
Often, we can attribute eyelash thinning to bad beauty habits—like sleeping in your eye makeup or being too aggressive with the eye makeup remover. Other times, the cause might be more serious—like a bacterial infection, hormonal imbalances or an autoimmune disorder. If you can’t put the blame on your beauty routine, it’s probably time to see a dermatologist.
Related Reading: 3 Possible Reasons Your Eyelashes Are Falling Out
14. Excessive Sweating
- Normal: Appropriate sweating with physical or emotional stimulus
- Not Normal: Sweating of the face, head, underarms, palms and soles that affects social and work life, job interviews, quality of life
Sweating is a perfectly normal function of the body. If you’re working out or in a stressful situation, sweat is nothing to be concerned about. It’s just your body’s way of cooling you down. However, certain medical conditions, supplements or medications can cause excessive sweating. If you feel like you’re sweating more than normal or when you shouldn’t be, talk to your doctor to get to the root of it.
Related Reading: Is Sweating Good for Your Skin? Plus 5 More FAQs
- Normal: Normal skin
- Not Normal: Single or groups of bumps on the skin that can be contagious to others and should get treated
Warts are benign growths caused by an infection of the top layer of skin. Because they are caused by infection, a wart can be contagious to others. Although they are usually harmless, you may want to see a dermatologist for treatment or removal—especially if a wart hurts or you have many of them.
Note: Again, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health. If you notice anything out of the ordinary with your skin, hair or nails, contact a dermatologist ASAP.