Difference Between Dermatologist & Cosmetic Surgeon

This article compares the degree requirements, job outlooks, salary, and responsibilities of dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons, while attempting to point out the similarities and differences between these careers.

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Comparing Dermatologists to Cosmetic Surgeons

Dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons treat very similar medical conditions, and both are important for making people feel healthy and attractive. Dermatologists focus on treating topical issues, while cosmetic surgeons may perform more invasive operations. As members of the larger healthcare field, dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons must have a four-year degree and medical school training. The tenure of training and experience may even determine the salary for these professionals.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)**
Dermatologist Doctoral Degree $241,096 14%
Cosmetic Surgeon Doctoral Degree $258,541 14% (Physicians and Surgeons)

Sources: *PayScale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Dermatologists vs. Cosmetic Surgeons

Dermatologists may diagnose and treat skin cancer, which could prevent the illness from spreading. Cosmetic surgeons, on the other hand, perform procedures that a patient desires purely for aesthetic reasons. Additionally, dermatologists primarily use only lotions, cleansers, and creams to treat patients, while cosmetic surgeons may use scalpels, saws, and lasers to cut skin and bone.


Dermatologists are doctors who specialize in skincare. Often, a family physician may recommend their specialized services and the patient will have to see them at their private practice. Dermatologists work with patients to diagnose and treat skin, hair, and nail conditions. After examining the affected area, they can either remove the skin or prescribe medications and antibiotics. In fact, they work with oncologists to perform biopsies of moles and cysts to determine if these spots are cancerous, as well as to remove malignant sections if necessary.

Job responsibilities of a dermatologist include:

  • diagnosing conditions such as acne, dandruff, athlete's foot, and psoriasis
  • recommending skin care products to increase their patients' chances of recovering and healing
  • remaining updated on the latest skincare treatments, both topical and surgical
  • utilizing tools such as dermoscopes to get a close look at pigmented lesions of the skin

Cosmetic Surgeons

Cosmetic surgeons work with patients to change the appearance of their bodies and faces. Whether working with the bones in the face and skull, or performing liposuction, these doctors can enjoy making their patients feel good about themselves. Often focusing on elective surgeries, they perform facelifts, rhinoplasties, and even breast augmentations. A deep knowledge of skin grafts and free tissue transfers is necessary for cosmetic surgeons to be successful.

Job responsibilities of a cosmetic surgeon include:

  • following current and established medical techniques for surgery
  • learning a patient's medical history, medical allergies, and any preexisting health conditions to ensure the patient is healthy enough for surgery
  • discussing with the patient the risks of undergoing an operation
  • prescribing treatments, such as antibiotics, for patients before and after a procedure

Related Careers

While looking into a career as a dermatologist, you may want to also research a job as a massage therapist, as both of these careers help people feel their best. However, if you are interested in a career as a cosmetic surgeon, you may want to read about jobs as an operating room nurse, because these careers require you to care for patients in the operating room.

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