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What Is Investigative Dermatology?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Investigative dermatology is a branch of scientific research that deals exclusively with skin biology and different skin, nail, and scalp conditions. Dermatology is the broad medical field relating to skin health. Most general dermatologists work in hospitals or independent offices treating patients. Investigative dermatologists are doctors who devote their careers not to patient interaction, but rather to pharmaceutical or treatment-based research.

Medicine is a dynamic field, and patient care involves a lot more than simply face-to-face meetings or check-ups in a doctor’s office. A lot of work is done behind the scenes, in medical research labs and drug testing and manufacturing facilities. Investigative dermatology is such an area. Doctors in this field study skin conditions, innovate new methods of care, and research cures and new treatments, be they medical or therapeutic.

A dermatologist working in a lab setting must almost always be board-certified, which in most places means that he or she is eligible to see and treat patients. It is rare for doctors to work both as practitioners and as researchers, however. Most of the time, they must choose one track or the other.

Some investigative dermatologists enter the research field directly from medical school, but most spend at least a few years in active practice first. Investigative dermatology requires a substantial knowledge of both general medicine and dermatology. Many researchers find that their work is enhanced by prior hands-on experience working with patients.

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Research into skin conditions, cures, and new medicines is the mainstay of investigative dermatology work. The scientists in dermatology labs study problems with nails, skin irritations, and scalp conditions, among other things. They look for medical treatments and cures by experimenting with chemical compounds, running test groups and medical trials, and often doing research on animals. One of their main goals is to use science to get to the bottom of human skin problems.

Clinicians and researchers in many ways depend on each other. Dermatologists in regular practice have a unique insight into common problems. These doctors are on the fighting lines of skin care. They are usually the ones who provide researchers with ideas for problems to study and data to substantiate the occurrence of certain conditions. Practitioners are often also useful in referring appropriate patients to research trials and clinical focus groups.

The work done in investigative dermatology labs furthers two distinct, but related goals. First, it furthers medical knowledge, keeping the field of dermatology sharp and cutting-edge. Second, it promotes the quality of life of skin care patients by striving to understand new conditions and seeking always to provide the fastest, most effective relief.

Investigative dermatology labs exist in the private sector, often in association with pharmaceutical manufacturing, in academia, and even in many government medical research centers. National studies on the sun's harmful effects on skin, for instance, are often carried out by government investigative dermatology teams. Many skin lotions and creams — certainly all of those available only with a prescription — are products of pharmaceutical and consumer-facing organizations.

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