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Need Skin Advice? There’s an App for That

With over 229 (and counting) dermatology apps out there, medical advice is easier than ever to get. But can you trust an app over your doc?

October 8th, 2013

Need Skin Advice? Theres an App for That

Sometimes it seems as if there’s nothing your smartphone can’t do. And if the latest dermatology apps are to be believed, your phone may now even be able to diagnose skin cancer.

Yes, you heard that right. Apps like Doctor Mole and Spot Check allow users to photograph their moles and get feedback from medical experts on whether what they’re seeing is atypical (meaning possibly cancerous) or not. Other skin-related apps are less life-or-death, doing things like tracking the local UV index (which indicates how strong the sun’s rays are) and providing advice on sun protection, helping you self-diagnose rashes and other skin conditions, and sharing news and information on the latest treatments for skin troubles like acne and rosacea.

In fact, according to a September 2013 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there are currently 229 dermatology apps out there. But since these services are largely unregulated, there’s no guarantee you’re actually getting credible medical guidance. “Be wary of apps that claim to detect skin cancer,” warns Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research and an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “But ones that allow you to track and follow any changes in your moles—and then prompt you to get it checked out by a professional—can be live saving.”

According to Zeichner, the FDA is starting to crack down on some medically related phone apps. But it’s still a case of buyer beware when it comes to trusting your phone over a doctor. At the very least, read an app’s reviews (or better yet, ask your doctor to check it out) before you buy. “Some can certainly be helpful, but they should not take the place of visiting your dermatologist regularly,” says Zeichner. “And as a general rule, any app that promises to actually solve your skin problems is probably too good to be true!”

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