THERE ARE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A DERMATOLOGIST AND A TRICHOLOGIST, BUT THE MAIN ONE IS THAT ONLY A DERMATOLOGIST IS A MEDICAL DOCTOR.
When it comes to finding help for your hair loss, you may be wondering who to ask first and who specializes in hair loss problems and solutions. A great place to start might be your hairstylist — if you have a longstanding relationship with the stylist and this individual is familiar with your hair and your lifestyle. This way the stylist can note differences over time, and he or she is in the perfect position to investigate while standing over you with a good view of your scalp and hair. Beyond that you might want to know that there are two more experts who can help you with your hair loss: the dermatologist and the trichologist.
How a dermatologist can help you with a hair loss condition
If your hairstylist sees an obvious infection in your hair follicles or a change in scalp texture or discoloration, or you notice this yourself, the dermatologist, which is the scientific name for a skin doctor, is your next stop. According to the American Board of Dermatology, a dermatologist is a physician (a medical doctor) who is trained to evaluate and manage patients with benign and malignant disorders of the skin, hair, nails and adjacent mucous membranes. A dermatologist has additional training and experience in:
- The diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers and other tumors of the skin
- The diagnosis and management of inflammatory skin disorders such as contact dermatitis and seborrhea
- The recognition of the skin manifestations of systemic and infectious diseases
- Dermatopathology, the microscopic diagnosis of diseases of the skin
- Surgical techniques used in dermatology
If your hair loss is caused by an abnormality in the scalp, such as an infection, skin cancer, a parasite or a skin disease that affects hair follicles, the dermatologist can prescribe medications. This doctor is also skilled in knowing when the hair loss may be caused by something systemic such as the autoimmune disease of alopecia areata, a thyroid condition, an iron deficiency or a side effect of a medication you may be taking for another condition, and will refer you to your primary care physician or a specialist. Dermatologists manage cosmetic disorders of the skin, including hair loss, scars and the skin changes associated with aging. A hair transplant surgeon is usually a dermatologist first who specializes in surgical hair loss treatment.
How a trichologist can help you with a hair loss condition
A trichologist is not a medical doctor but, rather, a certified expert in “all aspects of the treatment and care of the human hair and scalp in health and disease,” according to the International Association of Trichologists (IAT). When consulting a trichologist, choose one who is either a certified trichologist, by the IAT, or a qualified and registered member of the Institute of Trichologists, designated by the letters AIT, MIT or FIT after their names (Associate Member, Member or Fellow of the Institute of Trichologists, respectively), depending on the length of training and practice. Training for any of the above designations or certifications takes several years, and the study of trichology includes:
- The biology, chemistry and physiology of the hair and scalp
- Problems of the scalp
- Hair loss
- Hair texture problems
- The creation of topical treatments to correct scalp and hair texture problems
“People come to me because they have some sort of hair problem they want to diagnose, understand and correct,” says Teresa Angelina Richardson, AIT, at Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic in London, where she specializes in the treatment of traction alopecia and other problems associated with Afro-Caribbean hair. “As a trichologist and hairstylist for over 25 years, I educate them on properly taking care of their hair, and if they have a problem, I can recognize it and explain it to them or refer them to an appropriate doctor or dermatologist for medication or blood testing.”
The bottom line between a dermatologist and a trichologist
Both specialists are trained in recognizing problems in the hair and scalp, but only a board-certified dermatologist can perform a scalp biopsy, treat skin cancer, prescribe medications, take blood and perform surgery.