Performing regular self-examinations for skin care is a straightforward and efficient method to detect skin cancer at its earliest stages, preventing it from advancing and becoming more challenging to manage. While skin cancers commonly manifest on sun-exposed areas of the body, they can emerge anywhere. Hence, it’s essential not to overlook any part of your body during a comprehensive self-assessment.

If you encounter anything suspicious during your self-examination or observe changes in your skin, it’s crucial to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for a thorough medical assessment. If you don’t have a dermatologist yet, you can also consult a primary care physician, who can offer guidance on the appropriate next steps and refer you to a dermatologist if necessary.

Vigilantly monitoring your skin health may also enable you to identify other treatable skin conditions such as eczema, contact allergies, rosacea, specific rashes, and other dermatological disorders. These concerns can be discussed with a dermatologist, who can provide accurate diagnoses and, if required, devise suitable treatment strategies.

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How to | Warning signs | Seeking help | Frequency | In-office exams | Takeaway

How to do a skin exam at home

Performing a skin exam at home is a proactive step in maintaining your skin health. By regularly examining your skin, you can detect any changes or abnormalities early on, potentially catching skin conditions or even skin cancer in their early stages. Here’s how to do a thorough skin exam at home:

  1. Set aside dedicated time: Choose a well-lit room with a full-length mirror where you can comfortably examine your skin. Ideally, perform the exam after a shower when your skin is clean and dry.
  2. Use a systematic approach: Start by examining your face, then move down to your neck, chest, arms, hands, torso, legs, feet, and even your scalp. Don’t forget to check less visible areas like your back and buttocks using a hand mirror or asking for assistance.
  3. Pay attention to moles and spots: Look for any new moles, freckles, or spots, as well as changes in existing ones. Remember the ABCDE rule for identifying concerning moles: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variation, Diameter larger than a pencil eraser, and Evolution or changes over time.
  4. Inspect your skin’s texture: Feel for any unusual bumps, rough patches, or areas of thickened skin. These could indicate various skin conditions, including precancerous or cancerous lesions.
  5. Check for any changes in sensation: Note any areas of itching, tenderness, or numbness, as changes in sensation can sometimes accompany skin abnormalities.
  6. Examine your nails: Look at your fingernails and toenails for any discoloration, changes in shape, or abnormalities. Nail changes can sometimes be a sign of underlying health issues.
  7. Use a magnifying glass if needed: For a closer examination of suspicious areas or to better see smaller moles or spots, use a handheld magnifying glass or a magnifying mirror.
  8. Take notes or photos: Consider keeping a journal or taking photos during each skin exam to track any changes over time. This can be especially helpful for monitoring moles or spots for signs of melanoma.
  9. Know when to seek professional help: If you notice any concerning changes during your skin exam, such as new growths, changes in size or color of moles, or any other abnormalities, make an appointment with a dermatologist for further evaluation.

By incorporating regular skin exams into your self-care routine, you can become more aware of your skin’s health and potentially identify any issues early on, allowing for prompt treatment and better outcomes. Remember, early detection is key when it comes to skin cancer and other skin conditions.

What to look for

Performing a skin care self-examination is crucial for early detection of melanoma and other skin issues. Research from 2019 suggests that individuals who understand the severity of skin cancer may be less inclined to conduct regular checks due to a lack of confidence in identifying suspicious skin changes.

While identifying potential signs of skin cancer is the primary focus of your examination, it’s essential to also be vigilant for any other potential skin disorders.

During your examination, pay close attention to changes in existing moles, freckles, and birthmarks, as well as the appearance of new marks that could signal skin conditions or infections. Regular skin checks are vital for this reason. During your initial examination, familiarize yourself with existing marks while actively searching for any that may be cause for concern. Specifically, watch out for:

  • Moles that change shape, size, or color
  • Moles with irregular borders or an unusual shape
  • Moles with multiple colors
  • Tender, itchy, or bleeding moles
  • New or changing growths or bumps
  • Scaly red or grayish patches that crust or bleed
  • Pink scaly patches that are sensitive to touch
  • Persistent pimples
  • Sores that bleed or fail to heal
  • Unexplained rashes
  • Wart-like growths

Skin cancer can affect individuals of all skin tones, although those with lighter skin are at higher risk. Shockingly, 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Research from 2016 highlights that individuals with darker skin tones face increased rates of skin cancer-related illness and mortality due to factors such as:

  • Lack of awareness about skin examinations
  • Barriers to accessing healthcare
  • Diagnosis at advanced stages

Because skin cancers may be more challenging to detect visually on darker skin, thorough self-examinations and regular skin checks by a dermatologist are crucial steps for early detection and minimizing cancer risk.

When to seek help

Knowing when to seek professional help is crucial for maintaining skin health and catching potential issues early. Here are some situations where it’s essential to consult a dermatologist or healthcare provider:

  1. Changes in moles or spots: If you notice any changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of moles or spots on your skin, it’s important to have them evaluated by a dermatologist. Changes such as asymmetry, irregular borders, color variation, diameter larger than a pencil eraser (about 6mm), or evolution over time could indicate skin cancer.
  2. New or unusual growths: Any new growths, bumps, or lesions on your skin should be examined by a dermatologist, especially if they are rapidly growing, bleed easily, or do not heal.
  3. Persistent itching or discomfort: If you experience persistent itching, tenderness, pain, or other discomfort in any area of your skin, it’s essential to seek medical evaluation. These symptoms could be indicative of various skin conditions, including infections or allergic reactions.
  4. Skin changes associated with systemic symptoms: If you notice skin changes accompanied by other systemic symptoms such as fever, fatigue, joint pain, or unexplained weight loss, it’s crucial to see a healthcare provider promptly. These symptoms could indicate underlying medical conditions that require evaluation and treatment.
  5. History of skin cancer or risk factors: If you have a personal or family history of skin cancer or other risk factors such as excessive sun exposure, fair skin, or a history of blistering sunburns, it’s important to be vigilant about regular skin exams and to consult a dermatologist for any concerning changes in your skin.
  6. Difficulty performing self-exams: If you have difficulty performing thorough self-exams due to limited mobility, vision impairment, or other factors, consider seeking assistance from a healthcare provider or dermatologist who can perform regular skin checks for you.
  7. Concerns about specific areas of the body: Certain areas of the body, such as the scalp, back, and genital area, may be challenging to examine on your own. If you have concerns about these areas or notice any changes, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for a comprehensive skin exam.
  8. Regular preventive care: In addition to seeking help for specific concerns, it’s important to schedule regular skin exams with a dermatologist as part of preventive care, especially if you have a history of skin cancer or other skin conditions.

Remember that early detection and treatment can significantly improve outcomes for many skin conditions, including skin cancer. If you notice any concerning changes in your skin or have questions about skin health, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a dermatologist or healthcare provider.

How often should you do a skin care self-exam?

The frequency of skin care self-exams can vary depending on individual risk factors and personal history. However, as a general guideline, it’s recommended to perform a thorough skin exam at home on a regular basis. Here’s a breakdown of how often you should do a skin care self-exam:

  1. Monthly self-exams: For individuals at higher risk of skin cancer or with a history of skin cancer, it’s often recommended to perform a monthly self-exam. This includes individuals with fair skin, a history of blistering sunburns, a family history of skin cancer, or those who have had previous skin cancer diagnoses. Regular monthly exams help catch any changes early and allow for prompt medical evaluation.
  2. Quarterly self-exams: If you’re at average risk for skin cancer and don’t have a personal or family history of the disease, you can consider performing a skin care self-exam every three months. This frequency allows you to stay vigilant without feeling overwhelmed by monthly exams.
  3. Seasonal self-exams: Another approach is to perform skin exams seasonally, aligning them with changes in weather and sun exposure habits. For example, you might choose to do a thorough skin exam at the beginning of each season (spring, summer, fall, winter) to check for any changes since your last exam.
  4. Before and after sun exposure: It’s also a good idea to perform a self-exam before and after periods of prolonged sun exposure, such as during vacations or outdoor activities. This can help you identify any new or changing lesions that may have developed as a result of sun exposure.
  5. Regular check-ins: Regardless of the frequency of formal self-exams, it’s important to stay vigilant and regularly check your skin for any changes or abnormalities. If you notice anything unusual between scheduled exams, don’t hesitate to seek medical evaluation.
  6. Follow dermatologist recommendations: If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer or have other risk factors, follow your dermatologist’s recommendations for the frequency of self-exams. They may recommend more frequent exams or specific monitoring based on your individual risk profile.

Remember that early detection is key when it comes to skin cancer and other skin conditions. By incorporating regular self-exams into your routine and staying aware of changes in your skin, you can play an active role in maintaining your skin health and catching potential issues early. If you have any concerns or questions about skin care self-exams, consult with a dermatologist for personalized guidance.

How often should you have an in-office skin exam?

Having regular in-office skin exams conducted by a dermatologist is an essential part of maintaining skin health and detecting potential issues early. The frequency of these exams can vary depending on individual risk factors, personal history, and recommendations from healthcare providers. Here’s a general guideline for how often you should have an in-office skin exam:

  1. Annual skin exams: For most individuals at average risk of skin cancer and without a personal history of skin cancer or other concerning skin conditions, it’s typically recommended to schedule an annual skin exam with a dermatologist. These annual exams provide an opportunity for a thorough evaluation of your skin by a trained professional and help ensure any changes or abnormalities are promptly addressed.
  2. Bi-annual or more frequent exams: If you have a history of skin cancer, precancerous lesions, or other risk factors such as a family history of skin cancer or extensive sun exposure, your dermatologist may recommend more frequent skin exams. In some cases, bi-annual or even quarterly exams may be advised to closely monitor your skin for any changes or new developments.
  3. Post-treatment follow-up exams: If you’ve undergone treatment for skin cancer or other skin conditions, your dermatologist may recommend more frequent follow-up exams to monitor your skin’s healing progress and check for any signs of recurrence or new lesions. The frequency of these follow-up exams will depend on the specific treatment protocol and your individual response to treatment.
  4. Individualized recommendations: It’s important to follow the personalized recommendations of your dermatologist regarding the frequency of in-office skin exams. Your dermatologist will take into account factors such as your medical history, risk factors, and any specific concerns you may have to determine the most appropriate schedule for follow-up exams.
  5. Regular check-ins for high-risk individuals: If you’re considered at high risk for skin cancer due to factors such as a personal or family history of the disease, fair skin, history of sunburns, or occupational sun exposure, it’s essential to stay vigilant about your skin health and schedule regular check-ins with your dermatologist. These check-ins may include both in-office exams and discussions about sun protection strategies and self-examination techniques.

By staying proactive about scheduling regular in-office skin exams with a dermatologist, you can benefit from early detection and intervention for any concerning skin issues, including skin cancer. If you have questions or concerns about the frequency of skin exams, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your healthcare provider for personalized guidance.


The key takeaway from understanding how to perform skin care self-exams and when to seek professional help is the importance of proactive skin health management. Here’s a summary of the key points to remember:

  1. Regular self-exams: Make it a habit to perform thorough skin care self-exams on a regular basis. The frequency of self-exams may vary depending on individual risk factors, but monthly, quarterly, or seasonal self-exams are common recommendations.
  2. Know what to look for: Familiarize yourself with the signs of potential skin issues, including changes in moles or spots, skin texture abnormalities, color changes, and persistent symptoms such as itching or discomfort.
  3. Seek professional help: Don’t hesitate to consult a dermatologist or healthcare provider if you notice any concerning changes during a self-exam or experience symptoms that raise alarm. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes for many skin conditions, including skin cancer.
  4. Follow recommended schedules: Adhere to recommended schedules for in-office skin exams based on your individual risk profile and medical history. Annual exams are typically advised for most individuals, but those at higher risk may require more frequent monitoring.
  5. Stay informed and proactive: Stay informed about skin health best practices, including sun protection measures, and take proactive steps to protect your skin from damage. Regular check-ins with healthcare providers can help ensure you’re staying on top of your skin health.

By taking a proactive approach to skin care and monitoring, you can better detect and manage potential skin issues early, leading to better overall skin health and well-being.

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How to | Warning signs | Seeking help | Frequency | In-office exams | Takeaway

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