Skin Self-Exam

Written by Brian Krans
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Wider, MD

What Is a Skin Self-Examination?

A skin self-examination is a test you can perform on yourself to check for abnormalities in your skin, such as sores, bumps, or changes in skin color or texture. It’s an important way to screen for dangerous skin conditions, such as skin cancer.

The Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend that you do a skin self-exam once a month. You may need to check your skin more often if you have a history of skin cancer or if it runs in your family.

Why Is a Skin Self-Exam Performed?

A skin self-exam is used to check for problems with the skin caused by cancer, disease, infection, or injury. Early detection is the best defense against any harmful skin condition. Spotting problems with your skin allows you to get treatment as quickly as possible.

The Risks of a Skin Self-Exam

There are no risks associated with a skin self-exam. If you spot something unusual, don’t panic; just book an appointment with your doctor to find out what it is.

How to Prepare for a Skin Self-Exam

To properly perform a skin self-exam, you will need a full-length mirror, a bright light, and privacy. If you have a handheld mirror, it will also come in handy. You will have to be nude for the test. If you’d like, you can conduct the test with the help of your partner.

How a Skin Self-Exam Is Performed

To ensure that you cover all areas of your body, follow the recommended method for inspecting your skin from the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Standing in front of the mirror, inspect your front and back, including your sides, with your arms raised.
  • One arm at a time, inspect your forearms, palms, and underarms. Do this with your arms both bent and straight.
  • Using a handheld mirror, inspect the front and back of your legs, the bottoms of your feet, and the spaces between your toes.
  • Use a handheld mirror and full-length mirror to inspect the back of your neck, ears, and scalp. Move your hair to ensure that you check every surface.
  • Use the dual mirror trick to inspect your back and buttocks.
  • Make sure to get a good look at the tops of your shoulders, your neckline, and any other areas that receive extra sunlight.

During the test, be on the lookout for any of the following abnormalities in your skin that may be new or changing:

  • blemishes
  • bumps
  • moles
  • unusual skin color
  • unusual skin texture
  • sores

When inspecting moles, use the ABCDE method to identify abnormalities that should be checked by a doctor:

  • asymmetry: a mole that is uneven
  • border: a mole with an irregular border
  • color: varies from one area of the mole to another
  • diameter: any mole larger in diameter than a pencil eraser should be checked by a dermatologist
  • evolving: the mole’s color, shape, or size changes over time

After a Skin Self-Exam

The first thing to do if you discover something out of the ordinary is to stay calm. Little changes in the skin don’t necessarily indicate skin cancer.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist so that he or she can perform tests to determine the cause of your skin abnormality.

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