Self-Skin Exam: Head to Toe Instructions

Half of all can­cer­ous moles are found dur­ing self-skin exams. While annu­al full body skin exams per­formed by a der­ma­tol­o­gist are impor­tant, month­ly self-skin exams help you famil­iar­ize your­self with your skin so you can mon­i­tor any changes and detect sus­pi­cious lesions early. 

For self-skin exams to be effec­tive, it is impor­tant to per­form them cor­rect­ly. Below you will find the tools and instruc­tions you need to per­form your next month­ly self-skin exam. 

We rec­om­mend mak­ing sure you have the fol­low­ing tools on hand:

  • Wall mir­ror
  • Hand­held mirror
  • Flashlight/​phone light
  • Chair
  • Cam­era
  • Phone or jour­nal for notes

When per­form­ing your exam, look for any­thing out of the ordi­nary such as a mole that is dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers, also known as The Ugly Duck­ling” sign. The ABCDEs of Melanoma are also a help­ful tool in remem­ber­ing what to look for – Asym­me­try, Bor­der, Col­or, Diam­e­ter, Evo­lu­tion. Also, look out for scaly, crust­ed or bleed­ing patch­es of skin. 

Start by stand­ing in front of a mir­ror and exam­in­ing your face, ears, neck, chest and stom­ach. Do your best to check your scalp, armpits and under your breasts if applic­a­ble. If need­ed, uti­lize your phone’s flash­light through­out your exam to help you see each spot more clearly. 

Next, exam­ine both sides of your arms, your palms and the top part of your hands. Don’t for­get to look in between your fin­gers and your fin­ger­nails. On your nails, look for a dark streak as this may be an indi­ca­tor of melanoma. 

Now you are ready to exam­ine the low­er half of your body. While sit­ting in a chair, start by look­ing at the tops of your legs includ­ing your thighs, shins and feet. Sim­i­lar to your hands, look in between your toes and at the toe­nails. To make sure you don’t miss a spot, exam­ine one leg at a time. 

Now for the trick­i­est part of the self-exam, stand up and use a hand­held mir­ror to exam­ine your but­tocks and your entire back. Don’t for­get to look at the back of your neck and behind your ears. While lying in bed or in a chair, use the hand­held mir­ror to also look at your gen­i­tals and hard­er to see areas.

If at any point you find a sus­pi­cious spot, take a ref­er­ence pho­to to share with your der­ma­tol­o­gist or to look back at before next month’s check. Tak­ing notes, whether on your phone or in a jour­nal, can also be help­ful to share with your der­ma­tol­o­gist at your next appointment. 

If you have any skin con­cerns or are due for your annu­al full body skin exam, sched­ule an appoint­ment online or by call­ing your pre­ferred location. 

Annu­al full body skin exams are now cov­ered as a pre­ven­ta­tive exam by most com­mer­cial insur­ance com­pa­nies. Cost varies based on your insur­ance coverage. 

*Medicare and Med­ic­aid are excluded

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  • Ainah Tan, MD, Glen Ellyn Dermatologist

    I believe in treating each patient as if they were my family, with high-quality and well-researched care. Each patient is a unique individual that deserves personalized care, whether it is treating acne, performing cosmetic procedures, to removing skin cancer. I absolutely love getting to know my patients and aim to create a comfortable environment. We look forward to helping you look and feel great about your skin!