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How to perform a self-skin examination

Last Modified: 8/27/2019

While regular visits to the dermatologist are a great way to stay on top of new moles and marks, Dara Spearman, MD, FAAD, dermatology oncologist, Parkview Cancer Institute, also recommends routine self-skin examinations. Here, she walks us through the process, starting at the top of your head, and going to the bottom of your toes.

Routine skin examinations are important for patients with multiple moles, significant exposure to sun over their lifetime or those with a family history of skin cancer like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. It’s also important for patients who have had a personal history of skin cancer. While I recommend these patients visit a dermatologist for a skin screening once a year, I also recommend a self-examination once a month.

What you’ll need:

  • Hand mirror
  • Full length mirror
  • Bright lighting
  • A friend or loved one (It helps to have the same person help each month, so they get to know your skin.)

What you’re looking for:

Any lumps, bumps or new spots. Anything that’s itching or bleeding. 


When you’re blow drying your hair, section the hair and look at the scalp in each area. Have another person look at the back of your scalp if you can’t see it using the hand mirror.

Next, move onto your face. Make sure you look behind the ears and lift your hair to see the back of the neck using the hand mirror.

Arms and chest

When checking the arms, look at the fronts and backs. Make sure you lift your arms so you can see the armpit area, which is often missed.

Check the chest. If you’re a woman, lift the breasts and examine the skin underneath them, which is also often ignored.  


Look at your stomach and back. Rotate in the full length mirror and use the hand held mirror to look at your back and shoulders. Have someone help you, if needed.

Lower body

When checking the legs, look at the fronts and backs, sides and middles. Examine the backs of the knees using the handheld mirror.

Look at the tops and palms of the hands and check under and around the nails. Look at the tops of the feet as well as the bottoms of the feet. Be sure to spread the toes apart and look for little moles or lesions in the web spaces.

Finally, don’t forget the genital area, which often gets overlooked. It’s easiest to do this while sitting, using a handheld mirror.


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