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Skin self-exam

Doing a skin self-exam involves checking your skin for any unusual growths or skin changes. A skin self-exam helps find many skin problems early. Finding skin cancer early may give you a better chance for being cured.

How to do a Skin Self-exam

Checking your skin regularly can help you notice any unusual changes. Follow your health care provider's recommendations on how often to check your skin.

These tips may be helpful:

  • The easiest time to do the exam may be after you bathe or shower.
  • If you are a woman and do regular breast self-exams, this is also a good time to check your skin.
  • If possible, use a full-length mirror in a room with bright lights so you can see your entire body.

Look for these things when doing a skin self-exam:

New skin markings:

  • Bumps
  • Moles
  • Blemishes
  • Changes in color

Moles that have changed in:

  • Size
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Shape

Also look for "ugly duckling" moles. These are moles that look and feel different from other nearby moles.

Moles with:

  • Uneven edges
  • Differences in color or asymmetric colors
  • Lack of even sides (look different from one side to the other)

Also look for:

  • Moles or sores that continue to bleed or will not heal
  • Any mole or growth that looks very different from other skin growths around them

To do a skin self-exam:

  • Look closely at your entire body, both front and back, in the mirror.
  • Check under your arms and on both sides of each arm. Be sure to look at the backs of your upper arms, which can be hard to see.
  • Bend your arms at the elbow, and look at both sides of your forearm.
  • Look at the tops and palms of your hands.
  • Look at the front and back of both legs.
  • Look at your buttocks and between your buttocks.
  • Examine your genital area.
  • Look at your face, neck, back of your neck, and scalp. Use both a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to see areas of your scalp.
  • Look at your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes.
  • Have a person you trust help examine hard-to-see areas.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Tell your provider right away if:

  • You have any new or unusual sores or spots on your skin
  • A mole or skin sore changes in shape, size, color, or texture
  • Spot an ugly duckling mole
  • You have a sore that does not heal

Alternative Names

Skin cancer - self-exam; Melanoma - self-exam; Basal cell cancer - self-exam; Squamous cell - self-exam; Skin mole - self-exam


American Academy of Dermatology website. Detect skin cancer: how to perform a skin self-exam. Accessed February 1, 2022.

National Cancer Institute website. Skin cancer screening (PDQ) - health professional version. Updated August 6, 2021. Accessed February 1, 2022.

US Preventive Services Task Force, Bibbins-Domingo K, Grossman DC, et al. Screening for skin cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2016;316(4):429-435. PMID: 27458948

Review Date 12/14/2021

Updated by: Ramin Fathi, MD, FAAD, Director, Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group, Phoenix, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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