Your Guide to the Self Skin Exam at Home

by Kristin Scord, M.S., PA-C


Skin cancers can occur anywhere despite sun exposure, gender or age and is the most common cancer in the United States.  The great news is that early detection can be relatively easy and yield life-saving results when you pair your own at-home skin exams with your routine dermatology visits!  Below is a guide to help you walk through a self-exam and what to look for.  Remember to always see your dermatologist for any suspicious lesions!


How to Perform a Self Skin Exam at Home:

To prepare, use a long, full-length mirror and have a hand-mirror ready as well.

  1. Inspect your FACE:

Pay attention to your nose, lips, eyelids and ears.  Don’t forget to check the backs of your ears as well!  You may need a hand-held mirror to better visualize this area.


      2. Examine your SCALP:

Use a comb to part the hair in several areas, paying attention to any moles, bumps or scabbing areas.  Feel free to enlist a friend, family member or hairdresser to help you check or take a photo of any findings!


      3. Check your ARMS:

Scan the front, back and sides of your arms and underarms.


      4. Inspect your HANDS and NAILS:

Check both the palms and backs of your hands, between the fingers, and examine your nails (without polish on) for any unusual findings.


      5. Scan your NECK and TORSO:

Examine and get familiar with your moles so that over time, you can recognize what may be new or may have changed.  Be familiar with your own unique patterns!  Make sure to check under the breasts as well.


      6. Next, check your BACK:

Using a hand-held mirror in addition, inspect the back of your neck and your back–noting any changes and getting familiar with what your mole patterns are.


      7. Examine your LOWER BODY:

While still using your hand mirror, check your buttocks and genitals for any suspicious lesions.


       8. Scan your LEGS:

Thoroughly check the front, back and sides of your legs.


       9. Lastly, inspect your FEET:

Check both the soles and backs of your feet, between the toes, and examine your nails (without nail polish on) for any unusual findings.


What To Look For:

To help individuals know what to look out for at home, The Skin Cancer Organization has launched an education initiative called “The Big See”.

“Because skin cancers appear in many shapes and sizes, it’s important to know the warning signs associated with basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma, Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) and other rare skin cancers, and the precancer actinic keratosis (AK).

If you see something NEW, CHANGING or UNUSUAL, get checked by a dermatologist right away. It could be skin cancer. This includes:

  • A growth that increases in size and appears pearly, transparent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored.
  • A mole, birthmark or brown spot that increases in size, thickness, changes color or texture, or is bigger than a pencil eraser. Learn the ABCDEs of melanoma.
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed.
  • An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.”

[Learn more about early detection at]


How Often:

Most patients under the care of a dermatologist are recommended to have in-office exams at 3, 6 or 12 month intervals depending on their personal skin cancer history.  In general, the home self-exam recommendation is to perform this quick and simple action once a month.  Doing so can catch changes early and potentially save your life!

Interested in building an image catalog of your moles for easier tracking?

Here at NBDPS, we additionally have Fotofinder, a confidential whole body imaging series to help track moles and changes!  Over time, these high-resolution photos give your provider the ability to compare your moles digitally with digital photos from your initial visit, and immediately identify new moles or changes to existing moles on your body.  

This is highly recommended in individuals who have multiple moles (more than 50), a history of skin cancer in your family, already had a melanoma, have large moles (more than 2 inches in diameter), or have a history of severe blistering sunburns.  We have detected numerous very small, very early melanomas based on this non-invasive imaging information.

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