Saving lives through education


How to do the 10 Minute Skin Check

If you develop melanoma, finding it early before it spreads to other parts of the body is key to having the best outcome. That is why we strongly encourage you to establish a monthly self skin check routine. It only takes about 10 minutes. You can do it alone, or have someone help you. However you incorporate it, this is by far the most effective way to catch skin cancer in its early stages.

First, you will need:

  • Large wall mirror, preferably full-length, in a well-lighted area
  • Hand mirror with a long handle
  • Two small chairs or stools
  • Flashlight
  • Hairbrush or blow dryer for checking your scalp
  • Download (and print) Body Outlines and use to document moles
melanoma skin check - checking face including lips, ears, and eyes.

1 Facing the wall mirror, examine your face including lips, ears, and eyes. Use a flashlight to check inside your mouth, nostrils, and ears. Check your neck, shoulders, and upper chest. Women should also check under breasts.

melanoma skin check - using both mirrors, check behind your ears, neck, and upper back.

2 Using both mirrors, check behind your ears, neck, and upper back. While parting your hair with the blow dryer or brush, use both mirrors to check your scalp—front, back, and sides. Or have a partner or family member help.

melanoma-skin-check - check your abdomen, front and sides with hand mirrow

3 Check your abdomen, front and sides. Use the hand mirror to check your mid- to lower back carefully. (The back is the most common site of melanomas in males.) Use the hand mirror or both mirrors to check all areas of your buttocks and genitals, including hidden parts.

melanoma skin check - looking in a mirror, check you arms, hands and side body

4 Raise both of your arms and check all sides of your arms and hands, including between fingers and under fingernails. Then check under your arms and the sides of your upper body.

melanoma skin check - checking under your legs with hand mirror

5 Sitting on a small chair or stool, prop each leg in turn on the other chair or stool. Check all sides of your legs from ankles to thighs. Check your feet, including the tops, heels, soles, between toes, and under toenails. (Legs are the most common sites of melanomas in females.)

You can also download the above “How to Check Your Skin.”

Where on the skin does melanoma occur:

  • Anywhere, including places never exposed to the sun.
  • Caucasian males: the most common location is the trunk (especially the back).
  • Caucasian females the most common locations are the legs (especially the backs of lower legs) and trunk.
  • In Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans: the most common locations are the feet and hands.
illustration showing where on the body melanoma may appear
Origin of Melanoma on the skin of caucasian males and females

What to Do If You Find a Suspicious Mole or Lesion

  • Get examined by a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon within a week. Most primary care doctors have little or no dermatology training in medical school If you are required to see a primary care doctor, insist on a referral to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
  • If you are willing (or prefer) to have the suspicious lesion removed immediately, and it is not in a cosmetically sensitive area, forgo seeing a dermatologist or plastic surgeon and instead make an appointment directly with a general surgeon.
  • A suspicious lesion should be removed by surgical excision, not by shaving, burning, freezing, etc. Likewise, unless the lesion is very large, excisional biopsy is preferable to shaving or punch biopsy. Be certain to make this preference known to your health professional.
  • Some melanomas are difficult to distinguish from atypical moles. Insist on having the pathology examination of the lesion done by a dermatopathology lab (a pathology lab that specializes in skin diseases).

The Melanoma Education Foundation is devoted to educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. Information provided by the Foundation should not be used for diagnosing or treating a skin problem or disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a skin problem you should consult a dermatologist, plastic surgeon, or other professional healthcare provider.