I Went to the Dermatologist for the First Time at Age 38

For most of my life, I mistakenly believed that the dermatologist was something reserved for the wealthy. My mother never went. In fact, the only people in my life who visited the derm on the regular were either riddled with acne or had so many injectables that their faces ceased to move.

I was blessed with radiant skin when I was younger, probably because I didn’t yet have the stress of student loan debt or children. I didn’t have to worry too much about breakouts other than a zit or two once a month. There were no oddly shaped moles to contend with, no frown lines, and no concerns about pre-cancerous cells. I was young and full of collagen, and when my aunt warned me about what the sun would do to my décolletage, I told myself that it wasn’t something I needed to worry about right now. I would address it later when it actually became an issue. That’s what they invented plastic surgery for, right? Just let me live!

And lived I did. I never wore sunscreen. I hit up the tanning beds as often as possible. Sometimes, I’d go to the tanning bed and then go to the pool, something that makes my late-thirties brain explode when I think about it. I slept in my makeup, drank a lot of Red Bull and vodka mixtures, and didn’t change the pillowcases very often.

I was, in sum, care-f*cking-free.

I woke up one day in my thirties with fine lines, hyperpigmentation, cystic acne, and scars: basically everything my aunt tried to warn me about. I’m sure it happened gradually, but something about having two kids under the age of 2, in addition to a very active preschooler, made me forget to pay attention to my skin. For several years, all I cared about was survival. Then, one day, all of my children were in school fulltime, and I had the luxury of noticing how jacked up I looked.

No amount of picking, steaming, masking, or covering could fix what I had going on. My face was dotted with red splotches marking every zit I’ve ever had. My friends went to the dermatologist, but they had weird moles or cancery-looking things. I couldn’t go just because I had some stubborn acne, right?

WRONG.

“I’m making a dermatologist appointment,” I said to my husband, who looked alarmed, as though the dermatologist was code for “secret sex slave cult.”

“DO NOT GET THAT STUFF INJECTED INTO YOUR FACE.”

“I didn’t say I wanted Botox. I just need something done about my acne.”

“Nothing is wrong with your skin.”

So, he talked me out of it. Yes, just that easily. Because I’m the type of woman who is afraid to try new things, and I’m easily convinced that I don’t really NEED the thing I’m considering. It’s not that I didn’t want professional help for my skin; I was actually afraid that the dermatologist would find skin cancer because of the aforementioned “living” I did as a youth. But, when my best friend was diagnosed with skin cancer and underwent Mohs surgery, I decided that I’d waited long enough and made an appointment, stat.

The dermatology staff was mystified, though they tried to maintain poker faces, when I clarified that no, I’ve never been to a derm before. They humored me, even when I panicked when they handed me a paper gown (NO ONE TOLD ME I’D HAVE TO HAVE A FULL BODY CHECK!).

And do you know what? In about 10 minutes, I knew exactly what was going on with my skin, and I left with the products I need to fix it. Within a week, my complexion looked significantly better, and by the six-week mark, it looked absolutely amazing. Something that seemed like a huge pain in the ass—making myself an appointment, checking to make sure they accept our insurance, arranging for childcare, and actually showing up—turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done for myself.

Oh, and the best part? I don’t have cancer! But I did invest in some heavy duty sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. I am 38, after all.

Photo: Getty