If you haven’t made an appointment with your derm yet for your yearly skin check, it’s time to get on it. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. (nearly five million Americans are treated for it every year)—and one in five of people will get it during our lifetimes, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. So it’s kind of a big deal.
Already been inspected by your doc? Good for you—but that doesn’t give you the liberty to skip paying attention to your skin for the next 365 days. (Sorry!) It’s important to keep track of the moles on your body year-round since any changes to them could signify skin cancer. Yikes.
If you’re healthy with no history of the disease, ask your dermatologist how often you should be checking yourself, says Debra Wattenberg, M.D., a dermatologist with the American Academy of Dermatology. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a lot of moles, you should check yourself two to three times a year, in addition to your annual exam, she says.
Here’s how to do it: Strip down to your birthday suit, and position yourself somewhere with good lighting. “Start at your scalp, and separate strands of hair to look closely at it,” says Wattenberg. “Then, move down to your face. Look under your nose and behind your ears. Continue down your neck, and look at your arms, underarms, and the back of your arms. Move on to your chest, abdomen, and pelvis and groin area. Then you should sit down and check your feet. Look at the area between your toes, as well as under your nails.” Finally, have a partner look at the backs of your legs, your butt, your back, and everywhere else you can’t see yourself (you can also use a mirror to do this). “The back is the number one place people get melanoma,” says Wattenberg.
The bottom line: Nothing beats being examined by a trained professional’s eye, but you should still be aware of what’s happening to your skin. Your vigilance could save your life.