Dermatology is the study, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions that affect the hair, nails, and skin. Dermatologists are specialists who learn how to treat over 3,000 different conditions ranging from common issues such as psoriasis and eczema to serious illnesses such as skin cancer. If you are in need of assistance with any condition affecting your hair, nails, or skin, you’ll want to find an expert in dermatology in northern Colorado. If you’re interested in what dermatology consists of and its history, read on to learn more.
We’ll go over many aspects of the history of dermatology including:
When Did Dermatology Begin?
Dermatology in the Renaissance Period
The First Dermatologist
Becoming a Dermatologist
What Dermatologists Treat
While the term “dermatology” wasn’t always used to describe the study of skin conditions and diseases, the practice of dermatology has been around for centuries. Some writings that have been dated back to around 5000 BC discuss skin lesions and treatment for them.
During the Roman Empire, doctors began classifying different skin diseases, their symptoms, and potential treatments. There were also cosmetic treatments used by both the Greeks and Romans. These mixtures were designed to eliminate wrinkles, remove freckles, and treat blotchy skin.
These ancient dermatologists didn’t understand that the skin was an organ. In many cases, the skin wasn’t even considered when dealing with lesions and other conditions that obviously affected it. Instead, early medical experts such as Hippocrates often looked at balancing what were known as the four humors of the body. By bringing these four levels (phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood) into balance, they believed that any other condition would clear up.
The history of dermatology isn’t completely focused on the Greeks and Romans, though. The Egyptians also practiced an early form of dermatology. Some of the innovative changes the Egyptians developed are, in fact, still in use today. As early as 1500 BC, doctors in Egypt were using an early form of sandpaper to remove or reduce the appearance of scars, something still done today.
They also believed in the healing power of solar light and used it in a way similar to how we use phototherapies today. Certain salts, oils, and alabaster were used as cosmetics and to change the color and texture of the skin. While many of these methods were rudimentary by today’s standards, the theory behind them was sound.
Over the years, more and more doctors and scientists made notes on skin diseases. These cataloged diseases included everything from blotchy skin to cancerous lesions. These studies also gave dermatology its name. “Derma” was Greek for bare, while “dermo” was a specific term used for the skin of vegetables. These words would later be somewhat merged into one term used to indicate that something was related to the bare skin.
During the Renaissance, the study of dermatology became more detailed. Andreas van Wesel looked at the various layers of the skin, developing ideas on how it functioned and interacted with the nervous system. His ideas challenged many of the older concepts related to skin and led to a breakthrough in our understanding of the skin.
In the 18th century, Malpighi examined the skin under a microscope and made notes on how complex the skin truly was. Thanks to their works and the work of others, our understanding of what skin was and how it functioned increased dramatically.
They also studied skin diseases, advanced the methods used to diagnose and treat these various disorders, and even looked at applications of cosmetic dermatology. All of this set the stand for mid-1700s, when modern dermatology began.
While there have been a number of noted individuals who studied the skin and its various diseases, the first dermatologist (the “father of dermatology”) was Robert Willan. He was born in 1757 in England. Willan earned his medical degree in Edinburgh and later, after moving to London in 1757, began studying skin diseases. He created a detailed catalogue of these diseases, which he later presented to his colleagues in the Medical Society of London.
For his work, he was awarded the prestigious Fothergilian medal. He would continue to write various medical texts and articles, many of which focused on skin diseases and other areas of dermatology until his death in 1812. Of particular note is his book On Cutaneous Diseases, a detailed look at the history of dermatology and the first medical text to use the term “lupus.”
Francesco Bianchi, one of Willan’s contemporaries, is credited with creating the first comprehensive dermatology textbook. He completed Dermatologia in 1799. Shortly thereafter, in 1801, his text, Willan’s writings, and others would be used in the dermatology school that was founded in Paris at the Hôpital Saint-Louis.
This is often the answer to the question of when did dermatology become a specialty since this was the first school to focus only on dermatology and skin disorders.
Following Willan, dermatology continued to expand. Jean-Louis Alibert, a doctor at Hôpital Saint-Louis, compiled his research notes into a detailed text on skin and practical treatments for it. As other specialty studies, including immunology, genetics, and microbiology, grew, so too did the scientific knowledge about the skin and its diseases.
Major leaps forward in the diagnosis and treatment of these diseases occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries. Scottish dermatologist Norman Purvis Walker’s Introduction to Dermatology and Louis Dubertret’s Therapeutique dermatologique are two of the key texts published in the early 1900s that served as a guide for many of those specializing in dermatology.
Modern dermatology has seen the establishment of organizations such as the American Board of Dermatology that have helped cement dermatology as a field of medicine and regulate treatment. This board was established in 1932 and began certifying experts the next year. It was followed by groups such as the Society of Investigative Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology.
During World War II, a number of German dermatologists immigrated to the U.S. This led to the combination of American and German research into dermatology, pushing studies forward and advancing the field. In fact, this helped change how dermatology was viewed in the country and gave more credibility to the various dermatology organizations and schools.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, computer-guided treatments, lasers, and many other technological advancements made it much easier to treat various dermatological diseases. These treatments are also much more effective than those used even just a few years ago. However, like all medical fields, dermatology is still growing and changing as new advancements are made and new understanding comes to light.
A dermatologist attends medical school just like any other doctor. This means they must first spend four years earning a bachelor’s degree in a pre-med field. Next, they spend four years in medical school to complete their M.D.
Following this, they will spend a year doing an internship. Here, they gain real-world experience in the medical field. Some may intern at large hospitals, while others may work at a local doctor’s office or clinic. Finally, future dermatologists do a residency program that lasts for three years. Here, they focus on dermatology and spend over 10,000 hours working with patients and doctors.
In addition to earning a medical degree, a dermatologist should become board-certified. While they can practice dermatology once they complete their residency and have passed their licensing exam, most choose to become board-certified because it instills a confidence in their patients. They know that the dermatologist they have chosen to work with truly has the education and skills needed to treat their conditions.
To become certified by the American Board of Dermatology or the American Osteopathic Board of Dermatology, one must pass a certification exam. Once they have, they can display their certification as well as use the name of the board on their website and other marketing tools.
They are also allowed to add FAAD behind their name. This abbreviation is short for “Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology” and indicates that they have completed their certification.
Most of the certification boards also require dermatologists to complete a set number of continuing education courses every year and may require them to re-certify regularly.
Over the years, dermatology has become compartmentalized to some extent. This is because the skin is the largest organ in the body, and with over 3,000 skin diseases currently catalogued, it becomes a lot for a dermatologist to study and treat.
Several specialties have developed over the years. Once a dermatologist becomes licensed to practice and is certified, they can continue their studies to specialize in a certain area of dermatology.
Combining dermatology and pathology, or the study of disease, a dermatopathologist studies skin diseases. They often work behind the scenes in a lab and coordinate with dermatologists who work directly with patients. When a dermatologist sees something concerning, they can take a biopsy of the skin and send that small sample to the dermatopathologist. This expert then examines the skin in order to determine a diagnosis for the patient.
Pediatric dermatology is the treatment of the skin of children. Some skin diseases do begin affecting children at a very early age. In fact, some infants even have need of a dermatologist. Any child who is dealing with a condition affecting their nail, hairs, or skin needs to see a pediatric dermatologist. These experts have studied the diseases that commonly affect children, including those that only affect young people. They have also learned how to interact with younger patients and can often put them at ease despite the anxiety they may feel when seeing a doctor.
Mohs surgery is a special treatment method that is used to treat those with skin cancer such as kaposi sarcoma. Like a dermatopathologist, this specialist may examine biopsied cells to determine the right course of treatment for cancer. They carefully examine patients, too, and plan out a course of treatment that minimizes the amount of healthy skin that is removed. Mohs surgery isn’t the only treatment for skin cancer, and in some cases, it’s not the right treatment at all. However, if it’s the best option for the patient, they will want to work with a Mohs surgeon.
Cosmetic dermatology focuses more on treating conditions of the skin that affect appearance rather than function. This includes smoothing over wrinkles, removing blotchy skin, and in general making the skin look healthier. These treatments are superficial and are often non-invasive. Despite this, cosmetic dermatology is a thriving field. Some do consider it more of a plastic surgery specialty instead of a dermatology one, but it does deal with the skin and, therefore, does fall under the dermatology umbrella.
Over the years, dermatologists have begun treating more and more conditions. During the Greek and Roman times, there were few treatments for skin conditions. While the Egyptians may have been using sandpaper to treat scars, they didn’t understand how to treat skin cancer or what caused conditions such as dry skin or acne. Today, we have a much better understanding of these conditions.
Modern dermatologists can treat conditions that are typically harmless but still aggravating to a patient. These include conditions such as acne, rosacea, and dandruff. They can perform cosmetic treatments such as laser skin resurfacing, hair transplants, and derma fillers to help make a patient’s skin look younger or to hide embarrassing birthmarks or scarring.
On the other hand, dermatologists today can treat many conditions that ancient skin experts couldn’t. This includes skin cancer, cysts, and infections. They can perform skin grafts for those who were burned, take biopsies to test for various illnesses, and remove certain growths with cryotherapy. Dermatology has come a long way since 5000 BC, and as dermatologists continue to study the skin, the field will continue to change and grow.
Do You Need a Dermatologist?
Now that you have an idea of the origin of dermatology and what it involves, it may be time to seek out one of these experts. If you have a skin, nail, or hair condition that you believe a dermatologist may be able to help you with, reach out to us today to set up a consultation.