Ask the expert: Getting skin deep with a dermatologist
Dr Eileen Tan, dermatologist with Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospita, on skin issues such as eczema, fungal infections and scalp problems.
What sets you apart from other people who treat skin?
Skin, nails and hair are my bread and butter. I am especially interested in restoring my patients' crowning glory and giving them a better appreciation of what is on top of their heads. So much so that I have a book - A Guide To Healthy Scalp And Hair.
Respecting what my patients feel is always a priority.
Tell me something unusual about you and/or your practice.
I have a graduate diploma in acupuncture and am a certified acupuncturist. I sometimes combine Western medicine with acupuncture to relieve itchy skin conditions, hair loss and weight loss.
What are the most common conditions you treat?
Scalp problems, hair loss, inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and skin cancers.
What are the least common?
Sexually transmitted diseases and the desire for big lips. Patients want to have filler injections for bigger lips but smaller than those of Kylie Jenner's.
Do you really have to come into contact with pus-filled bumps? Does anything make you cringe anymore?
I have seen all sorts of skin diseases, including those involving pus. Nothing surprises me or makes me cringe anymore. But I do want to highlight that many have mistaken inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis as contagious or infectious. It is not true, so do not ostracise your friends and colleagues.
What were the most graphic situations you have had to deal with?
I once saw a seaman with severe scalp inflammation due to untreated fungal infection. He was out at sea and was self-medicating for a few months before he decided to see a dermatologist. I felt sorry for him as that type of itch is quite unbearable and it must have cost him many sleepless nights.
Then there was another man who had a lump on his scalp. I did a biopsy and it turned out that his colon cancer had spread. I had to break the news.
Share a couple of your strangest stories.
A woman in her 40s came and asked for pubic hair transplant. The main reason she wanted it was that her family had gone through a series of unfortunate events and she was blamed for that. I told her that pubic hair transplant would not change her family woes at all.
There was also this competitive ballroom dancer in her 60s, who had been wearing a wig over a bald patch, but it fell off during a competition. She was so embarrassed and decided to have hair transplantation done.
Do you find yourself staring at people's skin at social events? Is it a job hazard?
My parents told me since young not to stare. But as a dermatologist, I have to. I sometimes ask them whether they are receiving some form of treatment.
We would not wish it on anyone, but if you had to have one skin condition, what would it be?
I suppose it has to be acne because it means I am no longer a child.
What would be one skin condition you really do not want to have personally?
Skin cancer. Malignant melanoma is the most dreadful skin cancer. It is potentially curable if detected early, but one particular type, called acral lentiginous melanoma, often develops on the sole of the foot and so is discovered late. It is quite common in Asians.
What drives you to keep doing what you do?
No two skin conditions are quite alike in how the condition develops or how the body reacts. As a dermatologist, I see a variety of patients with varying skin conditions over the course of a given day. Each of these patients may present a different medical challenge in terms of diagnosis and I find great satisfaction in helping patients develop an effective and practical treatment plan.
A skin condition may require a dermatologist to treat a patient holistically because the skin covers the entire body.
Some skin conditions can also be indicators of disease elsewhere in the body that can be deadly if not diagnosed early and treated properly. Early diagnosis of skin cancer will translate into potential total cure.