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How to Do a Skin Self-Exam

Your health care provider may recommend regular skin self-examinations. Even if you are not at high risk, ask your doctor or nurse to show you how to do the exam.

The best time to do a skin self-exam is after a shower or bath. It’s important to look for changes when you do the self-exam. It is helpful to do the exam the same way each time so you don’t miss any part of your body. If needed, ask someone close to you for help when checking your skin, especially when looking at hard-to-see areas like your back and scalp.

Check your skin in a room with a lot of light. Use both a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror, so that you can see your whole body. It helps to know where your moles and birthmarks are and what they look like.

Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror.

Raise your arms and look at your left and right sides. Women should look under their breasts.

Examine the back and front of your legs. Also look between your buttocks and at your genital area.


Check the front and back of your hands and the front and back of your forearms carefully, including between the fingers and under the fingernails.

Sit and closely examine your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also examine the nail bed of each toe.


Look at your face, neck, and scalp. You may want to use a comb or a blow dryer to move your hair so that you can better see your scalp.

If you check your skin regularly, you will start to learn what is normal for you. If you find anything unusual, see your doctor or nurse right away. Remember, the earlier you find skin cancer, the better your chances are for a cure. Also, keep in mind that not all skin changes are melanoma. 

Consider free skin screening

If you don’t know if your mole is irregular, or if you can’t afford to see a dermatologist or aren’t sure whether your insurance will cover the expense, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) provides free skin screenings at participating doctors during certain times of the year. These doctors cannot make a diagnosis, but they can tell you whether you should see a dermatologist. Visit the AAD website, or call your local health department to locate a nearby doctor and find out when he or she will be screening for skin cancer.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara M. RN, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 1/31/2013
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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