What to Expect During an Annual Skin Check, According to Dermatologists

June 30, 2022
By: Jackie Burns Brisman | skincare.com by L'Oréal
Person touching their cheek

If broad-spectrum SPF is the first line of defense when it comes to preventing sun damage, getting a head-to-toe skin check each year is the second. Having a dermatologist examine your skin from your scalp to your soles is an important step in early skin cancer detection — and a step that may just save your life. If you’ve never gone for a yearly skin check before, it’s definitely time to start. Below, find out what a skin check entails and why it is a key part in catching skin cancer early, with advice from Dr. Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant based in New York City.

What Happens During a Full Body Skin Check?

When you get a full-body skin check, a dermatologist will examine your skin from your scalp to the soles of your feet, looking for spots or moles that could be cancerous.

Dr. Shah recommends getting a full-body skin check at a dermatologist’s office once a year, and doing an at-home check yourself monthly. Here’s our guide on how to perform a skin check at home.

If you notice anything concerning, make sure to see a dermatologist, even if it’s been less than a year since your last appointment.

Why Is a Full-Body Skin Check Important?

A full-body skin check is the best way to identify skin cancer early. “There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma,” says Dr. Shah. “When found early, skin cancer is highly treatable and in most cases curable.”

How Long Does a Full-Body Skin Check Take?

For something so important, a skin check takes relatively little time. In fact, if your doctor doesn’t notice any concerning moles, Dr. Shah says a full check should only take about 15 minutes.

person posing with fingers on jawline

What to Know Before Getting a Full-Body Skin Check

“Before your appointment, make note of any growths or moles that are changing, have symptoms or look different from your other moles,” says Dr. Shah.

To identify if a spot is concerning, use the ABCDE rule.

A- stands for asymmetry. Take note if one half of the mole does not match the shape of the other.

B- stands for border. If the edges are “ragged, notched, uneven or blurred,” there could be cause for concern.

C- stands for color. You might see moles that are shades of black, brown, tan, blue, gray or red.

D- stands for diameter. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma spots are typically greater than six millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser. However, they might be smaller when diagnosed early.

E- stands for evolving. Notice if the mole looks different from others or if it changes in size, shape or color.

What Happens if Your Doctor Sees a Concerning Mole?

If one or more of your moles display symptoms of skin cancer, your doctor will likely perform what’s called a biopsy in order to give you a diagnosis.

A biopsy is a simple, low-pain procedure in which your doctor removes a small amount of skin to be examined by a pathologist. “During the biopsy, your doctor will clean the area of skin where the spot is located, numb it with an injection of anesthesia, and use a scalpel to take a sample of the skin,” says Dr. Shah. “You shouldn’t feel any pain, aside from the pinch from the injection.”

The sample will then be sent to a lab and tested for cancer. According to Dr. Shah, your results should come back in only a few days. If the spot is cancerous, she says, “it may need to be completely removed and treated with other processes.”

Remember, the earlier skin cancer is identified, the easier it is to treat — which is why monthly at-home checks and visits to your dermatologist are so important.

Additional reporting by Ariel Wodarcyk

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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