It’s common to hear people talk about yearly physicals, but many people don’t think about getting a full-body skin exam. Depending on your medical history, it may be important to get your skin checked regularly by an in-person dermatologist or dermatology medical provider. When it comes to certain skin diseases, early intervention can make a life-changing difference.
This is what you can expect at a skin exam with your in-person dermatologist:¹
They’ll look everywhere. You’ll probably be asked to wear a paper gown. Your derm will thoroughly check your skin from head to toe. That’s no exaggeration — they will even look behind your ears! To get a better look, they will likely use a dermatoscope (a sort of magnifying glass with polarized light used by dermatologists).
A biopsy — maybe. If your doctor finds any suspicious spots, they may scrape off a small sample and send it off for testing
Sit tight. If your doctor orders any testing, it may take at least several days for the results to come back. They’ll give you a call at a later date when they have the results.
To make your exam quicker and easier, there are three things you can do: 1) go makeup-free, 2) wear your hair loose, and, 3) remove nail polish. You can also do a self-exam and let your examiner know if you’ve found any concerning spots on your own. Visit the American Academy of Dermatology to learn how to do a skin self-exam.
Many dermatologists recommend checking your skin once a month, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule about this.² Monthly self-checks are often a good idea if you’re at risk for skin cancer (more on this in a second). Since everyone’s skin is different, talk to your doctor about how often you should perform a skin self-exam. Just keep in mind that these aren’t a replacement for a skin check with an in-person dermatologist.
If you’re an adult without symptoms or a cancer history, there isn’t enough evidence to argue for or against routine skin checks to find skin cancers early.³ If you are part of an at-risk group, have a family history of skin cancer, or have symptoms (like a suspicious skin lesion), then you should talk to your doctor about how often to get checked.⁴ Skin screenings are no joke. They can help detect serious diseases like cancer before you have any other signs. If you can detect cancer early, before it spreads, it’s usually easier to treat.⁵
Skin cancer can happen to anyone, but some people are more at-risk than others. Some risk factors include blonde or red hair, skin that burns easily, or a family history of skin cancer.⁶ Having a lighter skin tone also puts you at a higher risk of skin cancer, but misconceptions about darker skin tones,⁷ as well as systemic racism,⁸ mean that skin cancers like melanoma have a higher fatality rate among Black patients in the United States.
If you have any questions about a changing mole and/or your risks for skin cancer, make sure to schedule an appointment with an in-person board-certified dermatologist.
We’re big fans of practicing sun protection, and not just because it makes your skin look good! The best thing you can do to help prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun.⁹
Broad-spectrum SPF 30. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every day, even on cloudy days or days you spend indoors.
Re-apply. Re-apply it once for every two hours of sun exposure (or even more often if you’re getting soaked, say, from swimming or sweating).
Avoid the sun. Seek shade and make fashion-forward choices like wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
You can check out our guide to sunscreen for even more information on how to protect yourself. But please remember — skin cancer can occur where the sun doesn’t shine! Even if an area isn’t regularly (or ever!) exposed to UV rays, skin cancer can still occur there.
To learn more about skin cancer, skin cancer screening, and how you can protect yourself, you can check out any of these resources:
American Academy of Dermatology’s skin cancer resource center.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s skin cancer page.
National Cancer Institute’s cancer treatment information for patients.
Curology does not diagnose or treat skin cancer. It’s important to see your in-person dermatologist for any questions or concerns related to skin cancer. We can, however, help with concerns related to acne and anti-aging.
PS. We did the research so you don't have to:
The Skin Cancer Foundation. Annual Exams: Five Easy Steps to Prepare Yourself. (2020).
“Although the American Cancer Society does not have guidelines for the early detection of skin cancer, many doctors recommend checking your own skin regularly, typically once a month.” From How to Do a Skin Self-Exam. American Cancer Society. (2019, July 23).
According to a 2016 report from the US Preventive Services Task Force, “the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of visual skin examination by a clinician to screen for skin cancer in adults” when it comes to asymptomatic adults. From Skincare Screening. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2016, July 26).
“[T]he current evidence is insufficient and that the balance of benefit and harms of visual skin examination by a clinician to screen for skin cancer in asymptomatic adults cannot be determined.” From Skin Cancer Screening, ibid.
“Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms. This can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.” From Skin Cancer Screening (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute. (2020, March 27).
Medline Plus. Skin Cancer Screening. (2020, February 26).
Carolyn McMillan. The skin care myth that harms people of color. University of California News Room. (2019, July 17).
“[I]n the US, the five-year survival rate after a melanoma diagnosis has changed in these two sub-populations, from the 70s to the present day. In white patients, the survival rate has improved from 68% to 90%. In black patients, it has gone down from 67% to 66%.” From Decolonising dermatology: why black and brown skin needs better treatment. Neil Singh. The Guardian. (2020, August 13).
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Skin Cancer? (2020, April 9).
Disclaimer: We’re here to share what we know about skin cancer screenings, but don’t take it as medical advice. And, just a head’s up, Curology can’t safely evaluate your skin for signs of cancer, and our products don’t treat it. Look for an in-person dermatologist or dermatology provider to help you out with any skin cancer concerns. For help finding a local dermatologist so that you can be seen in-person, visit the American Academy of Dermatology.
Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C