A Chat With 'The Big Kahuna' 3

Dermatologist Alan Gardener Talks Healthy Skin

We would like to get to know the man in the doctor’s coat. Who is Gardner Dermatology’s “Big Kahuna?”

I’m Alan Gardner, a board-certified dermatologist, originally from South Carolina. I went to the Medical University of South Carolina, did internal medicine in St. Louis and dermatology residency in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright State Medical University. I’ve been practicing in Atlanta since 1985. I enjoy photography, golf and I love to travel. One of our nurses ordered brand-new lab coats, and as a joke, she secretly put “The Big Kahuna” on mine. I was wearing it unaware until a patient said “Big Kahuna?! I’m looking for Dr. Gardner!” The patients like it; it relaxes people who are nervous, it makes them laugh, and it opens things up.

Why dermatology as your specialty?

As a visual and dexterous person, I’m able to see what’s on the skin and I enjoy the surgical aspect of it. I treat patients of all ages, and there are many diseases from mild to severe; it’s intellectually stimulating.

What are the most common skin problems you see?

Skin cancer; sun-damaged skin, which causes premature aging; acne, eczema, psoriasis and fungal diseases. Certain rashes are emergencies, such as poison ivy or a reaction to medication, then we try to get people in ASAP. We care, so our staff will have them take precedent.

Do patients tend to wait longer than they should to get their skin concerns addressed?

Particularly with moles and growths—they often don’t hurt, so they’re neglected. Any moles or growths that are changing in size, shape, color, forming a scab, healing and breaking down or bleeding, need to be checked quickly. Don’t put it off! The longer you wait, the greater the chances of a bad outcome.

How often should people visit a dermatologist?

Twice a year to be safe.

I had a patient on his early 60s come in every six months. On his fifth time, he asked, “Isn’t this overkill?” He’s got a lot of moles.

I asked how often he gets his teeth cleaned. “Every sixth months.”

“Why?”

“To prevent cavities.”

“OK, when has someone died from dirty teeth if they missed a cleaning? Same here: prevention. You can be fine, but what if?”

Months later, we took cancerous skin off his back. I teach patients to be proactive with themselves.

According to the American Cancer Society, one person dies of melanoma every 54 minutes. One. That’s shocking.

There are varied types of cancers from mild to basal cell, to the more serious malignant melanomas. Dysplastic moles are precancerous, but we can catch many of them before they spread. I had four patients recently who had melanoma removed in its early stages, and they’re quite well.

Your practice also includes a medical spa. Beauty and health intersect.

The estheticians and I share the space and review medical things; if they see something, they know whether someone can have a procedure or not. They’ll come and get me. That’s a key thing that a lot of spas don’t have.

Aside from being an accomplished doctor, you are also an award-winning photographer—the recipient of two gold medals at the prestigious PX3 in Paris. Your superb photos adorn your clinic like in an art gallery. You heighten beauty in both fields.

I also won eight honorable mentions in the International Photography Awards, and once had the honor of having a photo selected by “National Geographic” as the year’s best. I like beauty, and looking at symmetry, positive vs. negative spaces, colors, so there’s an art to composition. That relates to my cosmetic practice when I’m doing Botox and injectable fillers. The artistic translates right into the cosmetic aspect of dermatology. I’ve always liked photography, but I got serious about it 12 years ago.

Any advice for our readers on healthy skin care habits?

See your dermatologist. Don’t get burned trying to tan. I’m not saying don’t go to the beach, but be smart about it.  Avoid the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wear sunscreen. Smoking is bad for your skin. Eat healthy, and minimal alcohol, for sure.