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Digital Dermatology: Navigating the Promise and Pitfalls of Skin Health Apps

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMay 29, 2024

In a world where smartphones are as ubiquitous as they are powerful, it's no wonder that health-related mobile applications (apps) are on the rise. This is particularly true for apps focused on dermatology, which often utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to provide services ranging from skin cancer detection to acne management. Yet, a recent scoping review published in JAMA Dermatology by Wongvibulsin et al. has raised concerns about the efficacy and safety of these apps.

Are Dermatology Apps Reliable?

The study conducted a thorough search of Apple and Android mobile app stores to identify AI-enabled dermatology mobile apps. The goal was to evaluate these apps based on various criteria, including their purpose, evidence for claims, regulatory status, clinician involvement, data privacy, and more.

From an initial list of 909 apps, only 41 were found suitable for detailed analysis after removing duplicates and non-relevant entries. The investigation revealed that none of the apps had been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and only two carried disclaimers about their non-regulatory-approved status.

Lack of Evidence and Transparency

Alarmingly, the review found that these dermatology apps often lack proper evidence and transparency. For many, there is a notable absence of clinician input and published scientific research to support their claims. For instance, no app claiming diagnostic capability had scientific publications as supporting evidence. Furthermore, many apps did not provide clear information on how user data, such as skin images, would be used, raising privacy concerns.

Potential Risks and Misleading Claims

Given the findings of this review, there are worries that these apps might offer false reassurances or even potential misdiagnoses. Since fewer than half of the analyzed apps had dermatologist input, their effectiveness could be questioned. According to an article by the American Academy of Dermatology, some apps claiming to diagnose or suggest treatments might supply inaccurate information.

Regulation and Standardization: The Path Forward

Despite these concerns, AI-powered dermatological apps do hold promise. They have the potential to improve access to care and could lead to better outcomes for patients if properly validated and regulated. To achieve that end, the study suggests that app developers should be more forthcoming about the specific AI algorithms used, their development and validation datasets, the involvement of healthcare professionals, and how they manage user data.


The current state of dermatology AI apps is a mixed bag. Although there's potential for these tools to revolutionize the management and diagnosis of skin conditions, the lack of validation, transparency, and oversight highlighted by this study suggests a need for caution. Users must be aware of the limitations of these apps, and developers, along with regulatory bodies, must work towards creating a safer, more reliable landscape of health technology.

To read the full scoping review, you can access it on JAMA Dermatology's website: Link to the JAMA Dermatology article.

This article was crafted with the support of Buoy Health, ensuring the data analyzed herein is presented in an accessible manner to inform and engage readers about the latest research developments.


Wongvibulsin, S., Yan, M. J., Pahalyants, V., Murphy, W., Daneshjou, R., & Rotemberg, V. (2024). Current state of dermatology mobile applications with artificial intelligence features: A scoping review. JAMA Dermatology.