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Skin self-exam

Doing a skin self-exam involves checking your skin for any unusual growths or skin changes. A skin self-exam helps find many skin problems early. Finding skin cancer early may give you a better chance for being cured.

How to do a skin self-exam

Experts do not agree on whether or not skin self-exams should be performed. So there is no standard recommendation for how often to perform them.

Checking your skin regularly can help you notice any unusual changes.

  • The easiest time to do the exam may be after you bathe or shower.
  • If you are a woman and do regular breast self-exams, this is also a good time to check your skin.
  • If possible, use a full-length mirror in a room with bright lights so you can see your entire body.

Look for several things when doing a skin self-exam.

New skin markings:

  • Bumps
  • Moles
  • Blemishes
  • Changes in color

Moles that have changed in:

  • Size
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Shape

Moles with:

  • Uneven edges
  • Differences in color
  • Lack of even sides (look different from one side to the other)

Also look for:

  • Moles or sores that continue to bleed or won't heal
  • Any mole or growth that looks very different from other skin growths around them

To do a skin self-exam:

  • Look closely at your entire body, both front and back, in the mirror.
  • Check under your arms and on both sides of each arm. Be sure to look at the backs of your upper arms, which can be hard to see.
  • Bend your arms at the elbow, and look at both sides of your forearm.
  • Look at the tops and palms of your hands.
  • Look at the front and back of both legs.
  • Look at your buttocks and between your buttocks.
  • Examine your genital area.
  • Look at your face, neck, back of your neck, and scalp. Use both a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to see areas of your scalp.
  • Look at your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes.
  • Have a person you trust help examine hard-to-see areas.

When to call the doctor

Tell your health doctor right away if:

  • You have any new or unusual sores or spots on your skin
  • A mole or skin sore changes in shape, size, color, or texture
  • You have a sore that does not heal


Robinson JK. The Importance of Primary and Secondary Prevention Programs for Skin Cancer. In: Rigel DS, Robinson JK, Ross M, Friedman RJ, Cockerell CJ, Lim HW, Stockfleth E, Kirkwood JM, eds.Cancer of the Skin

Screening for Skin Cancer Recommendation Statement Date: February 2009. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf09/skincancer/skincanrs.htm.Accessed April 14, 2014.

Titus LJ, Clough-Gorr K, Mackenzie TA, Perry A, Spencer SK, Weiss J, Abrahams-Gessel S, Ernstoff MS. Recent skin self-examination and doctor visits in relation to melanoma risk and tumour depth. Br J Dermatol

What You Need To Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers: How To Check Your Skin. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin/page15.(NIH Publication No. 10-7625). Accessed April 27, 2014.

Update Date 11/15/2013

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