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Should I visit the dermatologist? Start with this at-home skin assessment

Woman looks into mirror to perform a skin exam

“Skin cancer is incredibly prevalent,” said Dr. Patricia Roddey, a dermatology specialist at Tryon Medical Partners. “It’s the most common form of cancer and one in five Americans will develop it within their lifetime.” 

The statistics can seem grim. But they don’t have to be.

“Melanoma is almost always curable – if recognized and treated early,” Dr. Roddey said. “Seeing your doctor regularly is what keeps you healthy, both long and short term. There are also steps you can take yourself at home.” 

By performing at-home skin self-exams, you can better identify areas of concern and determine when you need intervention from a trusted dermatologist

Preparing for Your At-Home Skin Self-Exam

You don’t need any fancy equipment for an at-home skin exam. The most important tools are your eyes and a mirror. Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Begin with clean, fresh skin. After a shower is a great time as your skin will be free of makeup.
  • Choose a well-lit room that allows you to see your skin’s details.
  • A full length and hand-held mirror will come in handy. You may also want a comb to best see all sections of your scalp.
  • Consider recruiting a trusted friend or partner to help with hard-to-see places.

The ABCs of Melanoma

When performing your at-home skin self-exam, you want to work methodically from head to toe. Pay attention to all areas of skin, even and especially those you might not normally think about, like between your fingers and toes, under your nails, underneath your breasts and hard-to-reach places like behind your ears. 

The most common hallmarks of a lesion that could be melanoma can be remembered by going through the ABCs:

  • A: Asymmetry – A mark on your skin is asymmetrical if you see differences in its halves.
  • B: Border – Identify any irregularities in the border of your moles and marks. This could mean the border is ragged or blurred.
  • C: Color – Color that is not uniform, including different shades. 
  • D: Ugly Duckling – “Ugly duckling” lesions look different from the others on your body. They may be very dark or newly dense, or increasing in thickness or diameter.
  • E: Evolving – Pay attention to changing size, shape or color.

If this is the first time performing your own exam, it’s important to get familiar with your skin. As you continue this practice, that familiarity will aid in identifying change. The best habit is to make this a monthly routine.

If you find something you’re concerned about or that displays any of the melanoma warning signs, it’s time to see your dermatologist and get a full skin examination

“By performing at-home skin exams you arm yourself with information,” Dr. Roddey says, “but know we’re here to be your partner in health and healthy skin.”