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How To Do A Skin Self-Exam

It’s an easy, essential way to look after your health.

Since you know that excessive exposure to harmful UV rays significantly increases your risk for developing skin cancer, hopefully, you’re taking preventative measures to protect yourself, including applying SPF of 30 or greater higher daily, and wearing protective clothing. But, preventative action is only one key component in looking after the health of your skin. The truth is that despite how well you care for your skin, developing skin cancer remains a risk, so early detection is critical. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. The earlier skin cancer is discovered, the more likely treatment will be effective. That’s why we’re sharing how to do skin self-examinations at home to ensure you know what signs to look out for if you see changes in your skin. 

What Irregularities To Look For When Checking Your Skin 

Knowing how to perform a skin check is important, but if you don’t know what you’re looking out for then there’s no point. First, take a look at the skin all over your body and get familiar with what it looks like. This doesn’t mean that you need to memorize every spot or freckle, but have a good idea of your skin's current state. Then, when doing skin checks, you’ll be looking for anything that looks or feels new, changing or unusual, says the Skin Cancer Foundation. These things can come in the form of moles that grow or discolor, growths that increase in size, spots that itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed, and an open sore that won’t heal within a few weeks.  

How To Perform A Skin Self Examination 

In order to perform a thorough skin check, you’ll want to make sure that you have mirrors on hand. A full length mirror as well as a handheld mirror is ideal to make sure you have visibility to all parts of your skin. 

A smart way to make sure you don’t miss any areas of your body is to start at the top of your head and work your way down to your toes. For your head, you can either use a handheld mirror and a comb or blow dryer to section off your hair and clearly view your scalp (or you can have someone assist you with the check). Again, you’re looking for new, unusual or changing areas of skin. Remember to use the handheld mirror to view hard-to-see areas like behind your ears. 

You’ll then want to continue to inspect the rest of your body working from top to bottom. Areas that people often forget are in between the fingers, underarms, under the breasts, between the toes, the soles of the feet, under the nails and under and around the genitals. If you see anything you’re unfamiliar with, take notes or photos so that you can consult your dermatologist or keep an eye on it for the next time you perform a skin check. If you find anything that concerns you, make an appointment to see your dermatologist right away. 

While the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends going in for a professional skin check annually with a dermatologist, the Cleveland Clinic recommends performing a self-examination monthly to ensure you’re keeping up with any potential changes in your skin. 

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Written by: Alyssa Kaplan, Photography: Matthew Kelly, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Creative Producer: Becca Solovay

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