The Pro

Creating a perfect canvas from your skin

Dr Rachael Teo feels her work is often like an artist's, as her diagnoses rely heavily on her ability to correctly assess shape, colour and texture when examining a patient's skin for conditions such as acne or eczema and even signs of cancer.
Dr Rachael Teo feels her work is often like an artist's, as her diagnoses rely heavily on her ability to correctly assess shape, colour and texture when examining a patient's skin for conditions such as acne or eczema and even signs of cancer.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Q I specialise in treating diseases of the skin, hair and nails because...

A Many people have skin problems, including myself - I get hives. There are infants with diaper rash, teenagers with acne and nonagenarians with eczema.

Even those who don't have a skin disease want their skin to look healthier and blemish-free.

Many people put up with skin problems as they are generally not life-threatening. However, skin issues can affect quality of life, sleep and work, or cause embarrassment.

  • Bio Box


    Age: 39

    Occupation: Specialist in dermatology; consultant at Raffles Skin & Aesthetics at Raffles Hospital

    Dr Teo's father, an anaesthetist, encouraged her to specialise in either dermatology or radiology.

    After three years of basic training in internal medicine, she chose dermatology because she wanted more face time with her patients.

    She completed advanced specialist training in dermatology at Changi General Hospital and the National Skin Centre, and has been an accredited dermatologist since 2009. That year, she started the Immunodermatology Clinic at Changi General Hospital to improve care for patients with immunobullous disorders, that is, autoimmune blistering diseases.

    Dr Teo is proficient in the use of laser surgery to treat pigmentary disorders and acne scarring, as well as in tattoo removal.

    She joined Raffles Hospital in 2013 and is now one of four dermatologists there.

    She is married to a urologist. They have a nine-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.

Q One little-known fact about tattoo removal is...

A It takes many laser sessions. How many depends on the size of the tattoo, the number of colours and whether it was professionally done.

An amateur tattoo is usually smaller and more superficial, thus easier to remove. Even then, removal might not be 100 per cent, and a faint "shadow" could still be visible.

  • Winners

  • The winners of last week's Flexiseq contest are:

    • Cindy Lim

    • Chan Sok Peng Marcia

    • Cheryl Lim

    • Chong Fei Fei

    • Hasi Bai

    • Sushila Devi K.

    • Lawrence Leong

    • Natarajan Alagappa

    • Poh Hwee Hoon

    • Quah Wei Ling

The reason could be residual pigments deep in the skin and/or subtle discoloration from multiple laser sessions.

Some tattoo colours, like red or white, are harder to remove than black, so think carefully before getting inked.

Q What I do is like being...

A An artist. It's my job to create that perfect "canvas" of skin for my patients. An artist needs to be able to appreciate subtle differences in colour and texture.

In dermatology, the diagnosis of a skin disease is often clinical, and based on my ability to interpret the colour and appearance of a rash.

Q A typical day for me would be...

A Taking my younger child to school before seeing my first patient at the clinic at 8.30am. I handle up to 15 patients in the morning - fewer if I have procedures to perform.

My day might vary - for instance, on Tuesday afternoons, I run a clinic at Changi General Hospital, where I am a visiting consultant.

There, I see patients with a particular group of skin conditions known as immunobullous diseases. I might also teach junior doctors during the clinic session.

I try to wrap up my work day by 5.30pm. Once a week, I have violin lessons with my daughter in the evening. Fortunately for my patients, I am a much better dermatologist than a violin player.

Q I come across all types of cases...

A They range from non-life-threatening conditions such as eczema, hives or hair loss, to serious conditions such as skin cancer.

Some patients have to be hospitalised, including those with severe drug allergies, skin infections or autoimmune skin conditions.

Dermatologists are also trained to manage sexually transmitted infections, so I might see these patients together with their partners.

Q I love patients who...

A Apply sunscreen, as this shows they are proactive about the health of their skin.

When someone fails to take care of his skin, signs of sun damage will usually start to show by the time he hits 30.

Q It is part of my job to...

A Be professional and help every patient who consults me. If patients are polite to me and my staff, it does make our experience more pleasant.

Q Things that put a smile on my face are...

A Knowing that I've made a difference in someone's life.

I remember an 11-year-old pupil whose eczema had been very poorly controlled. It affected his sleep, studies and social life.

It took a few consultations to build a rapport with both the child and his parents, but his condition improved greatly once he was started on an appropriate treatment.

When he told me he finally had friends, that really brought a big smile to my face.

Q It breaks my heart when...

A Patients seek treatment late, especially for skin cancers such melanoma, which can be cured with early treatment.

I also feel sad when a terminal diagnosis is made. Some types of internal cancer might first make their presence known with a skin lesion.

Years ago, an elderly patient consulted me for a nodule on the scalp that bled occasionally. She was later diagnosed with a metastatic cancer and referred to an oncologist.

Q My best tip...

A Check your skin regularly for new growths or rough patches, and for changes in any of your moles.

See a dermatologist if you notice anything unusual, so that a timely and accurate diagnosis can be made.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Creating a perfect canvas from your skin'. Print Edition | Subscribe