1 in 5 Americans are likely to develop skin cancer by age 70. A simple skin check routine can help you have a good outcome. Read on to learn more about how and when you should check your skin for signs of damage or cancer.

The skin may seem like a relatively thin layer, but did you know that this largest organ in your body makes up roughly 16% of your weight? With somewhere around 1.6 trillion skin cells (depending on your size), distributed across three layers, it’s your important first line of defense against the elements—including the damaging effects of the sun. 

And the sun can do real damage. Each year, millions of people in the United States are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer. The most common types are basal and squamous skin cancers; Melanoma, though less common, is considered more dangerous than the others.

Sadly, more than 2 people die from skin cancer in the U.S. every hour. The good news is that skin cancers are also highly treatable—when recognized in the early stages. “When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%.” – SkinCancer.org

This is why we always emphasize learning the right way to check your skin for signs of cancer—and encourage you to make it a regular practice!

How Should I Check My Skin for Signs of Damage and Cancer?

Checking your skin for signs of damage or cancer does not require any expertise or medical tests. The best way to do a skin self-exam is by examining your skin in a well-lit room. Use a hand-held mirror to look at those areas that are hard to see, or have your spouse, family member, or friend check you.

The easiest time to carry out a skin checkup is after taking a shower or a bath. If you are checking your skin for the first time, go carefully and slowly; aim to learn the pattern of moles, freckles, blemishes, or any other noticeable marks on your skin. You might even make notes or take photos so you can check for changes over time, particularly if you see any areas that might be of concern. 

The American Cancer Society does not provide guidelines on how often to check your skin. You should, however, do frequent checks if you are exposed to any risk factors associated with skin cancer such as regular increased sun exposure or a history of skin cancer in your family.

How to Check Your Skin Using a Mirror

The steps below will help you examine almost every inch of your skin while using a hand mirror (which will help you get a closer look, especially at harder-to-see spots):

  1. Place the mirror in front of you and check your face, ears, neck, chest, and belly.
  2. Next, check your arms, including the underarm, the part between your fingers, and the tops and palms of your hands.
  3. While sitting down, examine the fronts of your thighs, toes and skin between them, calves, genital area, tops and bottoms of your feet, and toenails.
  4. You might want to hold onto something for balance while you use the mirror to check your buttocks, backs of your thighs, lower and upper back, and the back of your ears and neck.
  5. Lastly, check your scalp by parting the hair using a comb or hair dryer

What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer can occur on any part of your body, but areas most-often exposed to the sun are at highest risk. Having a blemish or a mole on your skin does not mean that your skin is damaged or has cancer. These signs, however, suggest a visit to the dermatologist:

  • A wart-like growth
  • Any new or irregular spot on the skin
  • Any mole that is slowly changing in size or color
  • A scaly red patch that may be bleeding
  • Any bleeding sore or any sore that does not heal after several weeks

What Are the Major Ways of Preventing Skin Damage and Cancer?

The major causes of skin cancer and skin damage are too much exposure to ultraviolet rays from either the sun or tanning beds. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), you can protect yourself by:

  • Staying in the shade
  • Wearing clothes that cover most of your skin
  • Wearing a hat that will shield your face, ears, and neck
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen
  • Wearing sunglasses that protect both UVA and UVB rays
  • Avoiding tanning beds, booths, sunbeds, and sunlamps.

Prevention of any disease is always better than cure. Now that you know how to check your skin for signs of damage and cancer, you can give yourself an edge by checking it often. All the different types of skin cancer are easily treated or controlled at their early stages. So, if you notice any signs that resemble skin cancer, don’t wait; seek medical attention.