A man scratches his head as magnifying glasses move over his body during a skin exam.

Common Topics Discussed During a Full Skin Exam

During a full skin exam, there are questions that patients most commonly ask. The questions are usually about sun protection and how the patient can be proactive in checking his or her skin for suspicious lesions.

Common skin check and protection questions

Below are the common topics that are discussed during a full skin exam.

What sunscreen should I use?

The best sunscreen is the one a person will actually use! The recommendation is at least SPF 15 on a daily basis, and SPF 30-50 when outdoors. Reapplying every 2 hours is also key, especially if outdoors and participating in water activities. Physical sunscreens such as Titanium and Zinc oxide are the best for sensitive skin.1

Are chemical sunscreens safe to use?

Chemical sunscreens are safe to use. As stated previously in my post about common misconceptions about skincare and skin cancer prevention, the study that raised concern regarding the safety of chemical sunscreens analyzed the chemical compounds at a level much higher than in the sunscreens we actually apply onto our skin. As the American Academy of Dermatology states, “Just because an ingredient is absorbed into the bloodstream does not mean that it is harmful or unsafe.”2

Does sunscreen affect vitamin D levels?

This is a concern for many people, especially those living in the Northeast due to our daily sun exposure. Fortunately, sunscreen does not affect vitamin D levels. Multiple studies have been conducted and found that when using sunscreen as directed on the bottle, vitamin D levels are not affected, and are maintained.1,3,4 The best way to have healthy vitamin D levels is through diet and supplements, not sun exposure.1

What should I look for on my skin?

Most patients want to be proactive and want to know how to detect a suspicious lesion on his or her skin. After a skin exam, I usually go over the ABCDEs of melanoma, and how to detect the most common skin cancers - basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. The American Academy of Dermatology has a great infographic regarding melanoma.

  • A: Asymmetry - half of the mole looks different from the other half
  • B: Border - irregular, jagged border
  • C: Color - dark color/different types of colors such as brown, black, red
  • D: Diameter - a mole greater than 6 mm, the size of a pencil eraser
  • E: Evolving - Any lesion that is growing, becoming raised, changing in shape or color

Basal cell carcinoma can appear anywhere on the body but most commonly on sun-exposed areas (think head, neck, chest, arms). They often look like a pimple that does not heal or a skin-colored bump.1

Squamous cell carcinomas can also appear anywhere on the body. They often look like red-crusted areas.1

The general rule is any lesion on your skin that is new, bleeding, or not healing, should be checked.

How often should I have skin exams?

In addition to self-checks at home, once yearly skin checks are recommended for adults, and more frequent exams are recommended if there is a personal history of skin cancer or if a person multiple nevi or multiple atypical nevi.

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