How To: Perform A Monthly Skin Self Examination

Written by Lisa Rhodes, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on May 28, 2014 4 Comments

monthly skin examination

With National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month coming to a close we wanted to review a simple practice that can help save lives: monthly self-skin examinations. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a once-a-month total body examination with a focus on finding any changing or new skin lesions (which could possibly be cancerous or precancerous).

Early diagnosis is the key. Typically skin cancer that is discovered and removed early is highly curable. As such, regular self-examination is a powerful tool which can alert you to changes in your skin. If you discover anything suspicious you should schedule an appointment with your dermatologist as soon as possible for further evaluation.

For people who have not performed self-examinations in the past, it can be helpful to first have your physician conduct a full-body exam to assess all existing moles and freckles. Your physician can also guide you on the best techniques for self-examination.

Performing a self-skin check

What you’ll need: sufficient light, a hand mirror, full-length mirror, chairs or stools, body maps and a pen or pencil.

Total Time: 10 minutes or less

Skin Examination Steps:

  • Examine your face closely, looking at your nose, mouth, lips and cheeks.
  • Inspect your scalp by separating the hair and utilizing the hand-held mirror.
  • Check your hands (both font and back), wrists and forearms.
  • Use a full length mirror to inspect your upper arms from the elbows to the shoulders.
  • Inspect your neck, upper torso and chest (women should lift their breasts to inspect the undersides).
  • Standing with your back to a full-length mirror use a hand mirror to scan the back of your neck and the upper back.
  • Inspect your lower back, buttocks and legs.
  • Finally, sit down and inspect your lower legs, shins, ankles, and toes by raising your leg on a stool.  Also inspect the groin area using the hand-held mirror.

What you’re looking for

The main types of skin cancer are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Because each type varies in appearance the purpose of your skin examination is to spot any significant changes to the skin. Document any changes to your skin that you notice on your body map. SkinCancer.org recommends seeing a doctor if you find an occurrence of the following:

  • A skin growth that increases in size
  • Skin growths that appear tan, brown, black, multicolored, pearly or translucent
  • A mole, birthmark, beauty mark or any brown spot that changes in color, texture, size/thickness, has an irregular outline, is larger than 6mm or 1/4″ (the size of a pencil eraser, or appears after age 21
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode or bleed
  • An open sore that does not heal within three weeks
  • Small pink-red or flesh colored spots usually less than 1 inch in diameter
  • A change in sensation of a specific area of the skin (i.e. persistent itchiness, tenderness or pain)

At Westlake Dermatology we offer thorough full body skin examinations as well as a host of next generation cancer detection technologies including Mole Mapping. Contact us to learn more about skin cancer detection.


Lisa Rhodes, MD

Lisa Zanetti Rhodes, MD received her Dermatology specialty training at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, where she served as Dermatology Chief Resident in her last year. Dr. Rhodes is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a member of the Texas Medical Association, the Travis County Medical Society, and the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. Dr. Rhodes serves as a community preceptor at The University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine.


4 Responses to “How To: Perform A Monthly Skin Self Examination”

  1. Karl says:

    Great post Dr. Rhodes, thanks for the tips

  2. Lisa says:

    Do you have a specific sunscreen you would recommend?

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