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How to perform an at-home skin check

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, everyone should do baseline head-to-toe skin checks to look for signs of skin cancer and other sun-related conditions. Skin checks should be performed once a month, but people with a history of indoor tanning and other skin conditions may need to perform skin checks more often.

A healthcare provider should perform your first head-to-toe skin examination. They can identify moles, freckles, or spots that need to be removed or those that need to be watched more closely with photographs. The healthcare provider can also teach you how to conduct a thorough skin exam yourself. It usually takes about 10 minutes and can be life-saving.

To conduct a skin examination you will need a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, bright lights, a blow dryer, two chairs or stools, a body map, and a pencil. Use the #hairdryer to expose the parts of the scalp you are examining and start with your head and face while working down your body.

You will have to sit while examining the lower part of your body and use the other chair or stool to prop up your opposite leg. You need to be extremely thorough and examine such body parts as fingernails, soles of your feet, and underarms. Skin cancer can occur anywhere.

Note the results on a body map which is a drawing of a human body. On the body map, make a dot corresponding to every freckle, #mole, scaly patch, etc. Besides the dot note the date of examination, the spot's approximate size, and its color. During subsequent examinations note any changes on the spot. The body map can be downloaded from the Skin Cancer Foundation's website.

Skin cancer is common cancer, and it can be treated if spotted early. Physicians can often identify an atypical mole by using the "ABCDE" characteristics used to identify a possible melanoma:


Unlike common moles, atypical moles are often asymmetrical: A line drawn through the middle would not create matching halves.


While common moles usually have regular, sharp, well-defined borders, the borders of atypical moles tend to be irregular and/or hazy - the mole gradually fades into the surrounding skin.


Common moles are most often uniformly tan, brown, or flesh-colored, but atypical moles have varied, irregular colors with subtle, haphazard areas of tan, brown, dark brown, red, blue, or black.


Atypical moles are generally larger than 6mm (1/4 inch), the size of a pencil eraser, but maybe smaller.


Enlargement of or any other notable change in a previously stable mole, or the appearance of a new mole after age 40, should raise suspicion.

If a suspicious or irritating spot is noticed during the exam, contact your healthcare provider and you may be asked to consent to a #biopsy. The mole is removed and then examined under a microscope by a #dermatopathologist who sends their findings to the office to be discussed. Your healthcare provider will help guide you through this process.

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