The Easiest, Most Affordable Way To "See" A Dermatologist If There Isn't One Near You For Miles

Warning: You must be willing to upload pimply pictures of yourself.

New York City is positively crawling with dermatologists. They check moles, plunge injectables into furrowed foreheads, and sing the (justifiable) praises of sunscreen. Los Angeles, too, has a legion of dermatologists. Chicago, Miami, San Francisco: derms for days.

But what about South Bend, Lexington, or Baton Rouge? Smaller cities and rural areas have relatively few, if any, dermatologists available -- at least, so says a 2010 study. For people living in a good chunk of the country, it’s not always easy to pop into the derm’s office for a checkup. (Where I grew up, the nearest dermatologist would require a 40-minute drive.) Even if you have a dermatologist, it seems like the first appointment is inevitably, like, six weeks away.

This is why I became interested in PocketDerm, a new online acne treatment service that connects users to dermatologists. Here’s the idea: You upload photos of your face in its zitty glory, answer some questions about your skin, and a dermatologist will review your situation. Then, in a few days, a custom-blended prescription cream will arrive at your door. The service costs $29.95 per month, with shipments once every 90 days.

Naturally, as an acne-prone person, I can see the appeal -- particularly if you’re uninsured. (Doctor visits and prescriptions aren’t cheap!) So I volunteered to be a PocketDerm guinea pig. My skin is in pretty good shape, but I have some acne scarring along with some congestion, and I vainly want to have close-to-flawless skin on my wedding day.

Taking the pictures was the most awkward part, because there is nothing like direct sunlight and no makeup to make EVERY imperfection stand out. But what are you gonna do? “Here you go, doc,” I thought as I uploaded shots of my face. “Have fun.”

Then I answered a bunch of questions about my long and sordid past with acne. I have been on many prescriptions over the years: Retin-A Micro, Aczone, Differin, Ziana, Atralin, Clenia, doxycycline, tetracycline. None completely cleared my acne, so I made a note of that. I also emphasized how the only thing that led to dramatic improvement was quitting dairy.

A few days later, I received my PocketDerm cream in the mail, specifically formulated by Dr. David Lortscher. (I Googled him, by the way; my mother would instantly declare him a hunk, but more importantly, he’s legit.) The cream was a blend of tretinoin, clindamycin (a topical antibiotic), and azelaic acid (a redness reducer). I’ve used all of these before, but never in one cream, which is convenient.

So, is PocketDerm worth it? Here are the pros and cons.


  1. For a lot of people, this will be the easiest, most affordable way to “see” a dermatologist and have online follow-ups. (Unless your state isn’t served, which is possible.) You can send your derm a message online and get a quick response, which is neat.
  2. It’s not insanely expensive. A dollar a day, pretty much. The shipping was fast, too, which is important if you’re in the pits of acneic despair.
  3. The creams are prescription-strength, so if ol’ benzoyl peroxide isn’t cutting it for you, this may be the logical next step.


  1. Unless you’re a patient of Dr. Dum-Dum, MD, an in-person consultation is probably preferable. More back-and-forth, immediate communication. (And you can get your moles checked, too.)
  2. If you’ve never been on prescription acne treatments, you might not know what to expect. For example, tretinoin can cause peeling, and that’s normal. It’s also imperative to wear sunscreen if you’re using tretinoin, an important detail that I think PocketDerm should emphasize much more than it does.
  3. PocketDerm does a great job with prescription treatment, but from my experience, there’s not much of a holistic approach goin’ on. Stress, diet, hormones, and comedogenic products can contribute to acne -- and for some of us with extremely stubborn acne, topicals alone aren’t able to address the root cause of our breakouts.

I’m curious to know what you think about this. Would you go for an online dermatologist consultation? Or are you Dr. Zizmor all the way? By the way, if you haven’t been to my new website, The Glowhow, come by and say hi. There is plenty of acid-green eyeshadow for everyone.