Skin care self-exams are an easy and effective way to identify skin cancer before it grows and becomes harder to treat. Skin cancers tend to appear on parts of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun. However, they can develop anywhere, so you shouldn’t skip any part of the body when doing a thorough self-exam.

“If you notice changes to your skin, make an appointment with a dermatologist to get a proper medical evaluation. If you don’t have a dermatologist, you can go to a primary care doctor who can give you guidance on the next steps and refer you to one.”

You can identify other skin conditions that are treatable by paying close attention to your skin health.

If you have any of these concerns, you can ask for a diagnosis from a dermatologist who can give you a treatment plan.

A large mirror and hand mirror is all you need to do an effective job of examining your skin.

“If you want to get the best results, stand naked in front of a mirror and make sure the room is well lit. You should be prepared to spend a few minutes on your exam. Don’t rush, you want to be thorough.”

To do a skin care self-exam.

  1. Take a large mirror and look at your body. You may need to lift your breasts to see the skin underneath. The front of your arms are important.
  2. To check your arms, lift both arms.
  3. Look at your hands in a different way. Check the areas around the fingernails.
  4. Take a look at your legs and feet. Check the areas around and underneath your toenails.
  5. Look at the back of your thighs, calves, and feet with a hand mirror.
  6. Stand up and use the hand mirror to check your body parts. The hand mirror is a good place to look at your back and neck.
  7. You can use a hand mirror to look at your hair. If you have hair, you need to gently push strands aside to see the skin underneath.
  8. If you use a mirror, look inside your mouth for any white patches or black spots on the cheeks, tongue, or gums.

A skin care self-exam can be extremely helpful in early detection of melanoma or other skin problem. A 2019 study suggests that those who acknowledge the seriousness of skin cancer examinations are less likely to do regular checks, in large part because they don’t feel confident in their ability to identify suspicious skin changes.

While signs of potential skin cancers are perhaps the most serious targets of your exam, you should take notice of any other possible skin disorders, too.

Changes to moles, freckles, and birthmarks are changes that should be looked for during your exam. Regular skin checks are important. During your first exam, you should be familiar with the marks and also look for any that could be suspicious. Be on the lookout for a:

  • mole can be shaped, size, or color.
  • A mole has an odd shape.
  • mole has many colors
  • A mole is bleeding or tender.
  • New growth or a change in growth pattern.
  • A patch of red or grey that is flaky.
  • The pink patch is tender to the touch.
  • “That doesn’t resolve the problem.”
  • “sore that won’t heal”
  • That is not normal.
  • Growth is wart-like.

Skin cancer risks

While people with lighter skin are more likely to develop skin cancer, people with all skin tones are at risk. In fact, 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer over their lifetime.

A 2016 study found that people of color actually face increased skin cancer-related morbidity and mortality rates, in part due to:

  • There is a lack of awareness about skin checks.
  • There are barriers to healthcare.
  • A more advanced diagnosis is what you get.

It is important to perform thorough self-examinations and get regular skin checks because skin cancers are harder to detect with the naked eye.

If you see anything suspicious, make an appointment with a doctor. Even if the mark is harmless, you should consult with a doctor to learn about regrowth of the growth.

“The American Cancer Society and the American Dermatological Association don’t have specific guidelines for self-exams.”

However, a 2020 study suggests that monthly checks can seem too burdensome for some people, and that they are more consistent with their self-exams if they follow a routine of checks every 2 to 3 months.

Consistency is the key to self-exams being consistent. The risk of skin cancer increases with age. You will serve well down the road if you get into a good habit now.

Adding your skin care self-exam to a calendar and treating it like an appointment will help you get into the habit.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends regular self checks and annual professional skin exams by a specialist. If you have a history of skin cancer, you may need to have professional exams every 3-6 months.

While you may be able to accurately identify suspicious moles or growths, a self-exam is not a replacement for a full-body skin exam by a dermatologist. In a 2021 study of more than 1,500 skin cancer cases, researchers found that more than 50% of them were identified by a dermatologist and the remainder were identified through a self-exam or by their primary care physician.

The researchers suggest that having an in-office exam with a specialist is important to lower the risk of skin cancer.

If you have a history of skin cancer or get a lot of sun exposure, you should have a skin care self-exam. They are helpful for anyone to keep an eye on their skin health.

If you can perform a skin care self-exam every month or two, you can lower your risk of skin problems and skin cancer. If you have trouble checking your back or other parts of your body, you might want to ask a partner or friend to help.