Aesthetic doctors vs dermatologists vs plastic surgeons in Malaysia: What's the Difference?

Who do you see for your skin problems? Should you see your regular doctor? Should you go to a beauty centre and consult your esthetician or a beautician? Can an aesthetic doctor carry out a liposuction operation? What about plastic surgeons, what do they do? What’s the role of dermatologists or skin specialists in all of this? Who is really a skin specialist? Let's dive deeper into these closely related but often mixed-up terms.

skin specialist in KL

Let's categorised these related professionals accordingly.

Beauticians or Aestheticians

An esthetician or beautician is a person who has been trained in beauty care. This includes facial massage, manicure, pedicure and some basic medical science like anatomy and physiology related to the face and body. An esthetician or beautician is not allowed to use needles or to give injections (e.g. botox etc.) and certainly not allowed to do surgery on you. However, the legality may differ from country to country. As a summary, training and study in esthetics school prepares a student for work with:
  • Facials
  • Body wraps
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Makeup application
  • Aromatherapy
  • Skin analysis
The focus for both professions is slightly different. One focuses on ‘normal’ and enhancement of beauty, and the other focuses on the treatment of ‘problem’ skin. Do you know which is which?

Do take note beauticians at beauty salons are not allowed to offer 'injectable treatments' such as Botox and dermal fillers to customers who frequent their premises. Please be informed that only trained and qualified medical professionals are authorised to administer injectable treatments like Botox and dermal fillers. 

Skin Specialists or Dermatologists

The main difference between a dermatologist and an esthetician is the training background for each profession. If you go see a dermatologist or a skin specialist, you're seeing a doctor. This means that he or she completed medical school and a few years of residency at a medical facility. Dermatologists have received additional specialized training and education in treating skin related problems.
A dermatologist or a skin specialist is trained to:
  • Find out the root cause and treat all skin disorders, abnormalities and diseases
  • Write prescriptions based on knowledge of skin care pharmaceuticals
  • Perform minor surgery on skin abnormalities
If you have tried many products and see many beauticians for your skin problems and the problem is still there or getting worse, you really should see a dermatologist or a skin specialist.

The human skin is not as simple as it looks. Sometimes the problem may be related to certain food or drugs that you are taking or external chemicals (e.g. make-up, cosmetics). Definitely, no amount of facial massage would solve that problem.

Many dermatologists nowadays also offer aesthetic procedures such as dermal fillers and the various lasers, as there is a high market demand for these feel-good procedures. 

In accordance to the Guidelines on Aesthetic Medical Practice for Registered Medical Practitioners by the Ministry of Health Malaysia, a dermatologist should have an LCP Chapter 2 license in order to perform aesthetic related procedures.

Related: Best Skin Specialists in Malaysia

Aesthetic Doctors

Most Malaysians are confused between the roles and areas of speciality of aesthetic doctors, dermatologists and plastic surgeons.

Aesthetic doctors, or sometimes called aesthetic physicians by the public, are general practitioner medical doctors who have a special interest in aesthetic medicine. They attend certificate, diploma, or even masters courses, to study and train in this field.

Aesthetic doctors offer non-invasive and minimally-invasive procedures such as botulinum toxin injection, dermal fillers, chemical peels, various lasers and weight-loss programmes. Attending courses alone is insufficient to make the aesthetic doctor a good one. A doctor has to pick up the injection or laser skills by getting lots of practice.

By doing the procedure over and over again, and by attending workshops and training sessions, their skills and experience improve over time. Besides offering aesthetic procedures, some aesthetic doctors combine their practice with general practice (GP). They still attend to the regular outpatient patients who have acute and chronic conditions such as cough and colds, hypertension and diabetes mellitus.

There are also aesthetic doctors who prefer to focus just on aesthetic procedures alone and do not offer GP services. This is because some aesthetic clients prefer to have a degree of exclusivity and privacy.

A good number of aesthetic doctors also offer skin disease consultation and treatment, as skin conditions tend to go hand in hand with aesthetic procedures. For example, besides the usual antibiotics and anti-acne creams, clients with pimples can also be offered salicylic acid chemical peels or Light Emitting Diode (LED) phototherapy simultaneously for better results.

An aesthetic doctor should have a license known as LCP (Letter of Privileging and Credentialing Chapter 1) for aesthetic procedures from the Ministry of Health of Malaysia. In order to verify whether your doctor is licensed to do medical aesthetic procedures in Malaysia, you can check whether they have a LCP license over here.

Plastic Surgeons

Plastic surgeon are doctors who specialise in reconstructive surgery. They first have to train as general surgeons before they can sub-specialise as a plastic surgeon.

Plastic surgery is defined as a surgical specialty dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease. Plastic surgery is intended to correct dysfunctional areas of the body and is reconstructive in nature. Though cosmetic or aesthetic surgery is the most well known kind of plastic surgery, plastic surgery itself is not necessarily considered cosmetic and includes many types of reconstructive surgery, cranio-facial surgery, hand surgery, microsurgery, and the treatment of burns.

To regulate the booming aesthetic industry, the Health Ministry has come up with a regulatory body for aesthetic doctors, dermatologists and plastic surgeons.

A panel comprising the three groups of doctors will decide on the aesthetic procedures that each individual doctor is allowed to practice by awarding them with a Letter of Credentialing and Privileging (LCP).

This is done by conducting interviews and written exams to ensure that only qualified and experienced doctors perform the relevant procedures.

For more information on LCP (Letter of Credentialing and Privileging) license from the Ministry of Health i.e. LCP Chapter 1,2 and 3, you can check out Guidelines on Aesthetic Medical Practice for Registered Medical Practitioners by the Ministry of Health Malaysia.

In order to verify whether your doctor is licensed to do cosmetic surgery in Malaysia, you can check whether they have a LCP Chapter 3 license over at the National Registry Of Registered Medical Practitioners (RMP) With LCP Chapter 3.


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