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DIY Skin Mapping: What It Is & Why It's Important

Research shows one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. So what's a girl to do when you're trying to be proactive about your health?

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Besides wearing sunscreen regularly and sporting the latest in sun protective performance wear (wink, wink), there is something else you can do to help your doctor and yourself when it comes to your skin. Its called skin mapping, which according to Dr. Ross E. Levy, MD means "the mapping of a person's moles using total body photography. It can allow the patient and physician to follow individual moles over time to see if they are changing". Basically, skin mapping is a way to be proactive about your skin care and keep your own record of developments that happen over time. 

The best part? Skin mapping is painless, relatively easy and can be done at home!

Depending on how many freckles or moles you have, this could be a bit of a process the first go around. But you will have valuable information that can help you and your doctor in the future. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), this is the best way to perform a skin cancer self-examination: 

1. Examine body front and back in the mirror, especially legs. 

2. Bend elbows, look carefully at forearms, back of upper arms, and palms. 

3. Look at feet, spaces between toes and soles. 

4. Examine the back of neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair and lift. 

5. Finally, check back and buttocks with a hand mirror. 

 

The AAD also has a list of warning signs to look for during your skin exam. 

Asymmetry - One half unlike the other half.

Border - Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.

Color - Varied from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue.

Diameter - While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller. 

Evolving - A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

Record any moles or lesions that fall under these criteria, or anything that just doesn't seem "right" to you. The "ABCDE" guidelines are important, but not the end-all, be-all when it comes to identifying potentially problematic moles or freckles. Take high-quality pictures of anything suspicious with your smartphone for reference down the road.

You can find a printable version of the AAD's "Body Mole Map" here. The AAD recommends "if you find any spots on your skin that are different from others or are changing, itching, or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist". You can also learn more about skin cancer and find a free cancer screening by visiting SpotSkinCancer.org

Many dermatologist offices use total body photography to help with skin mapping. However, some health insurance companies won't cover it unless you meet certain criteria that put you at high risk for skin cancers. DIY skin mapping is a great option for those who may find themselves in this situation. 

Have you or your doctor used Total Body Photography? Did this post inspire you to do your own skin mapping? Tell us in the comments below!

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The following sources were utilized in this article:

* American Academy of Dermatology. "How to Spot Skin Cancer". https://www.aad.org/public/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/detect/how-to-spot-skin-cancer. June 2017. 

* American Academy of Dermatology. "DETECT Skin Cancer: Body Mole Map". file:///Users/ashleypettigrew/Downloads/aad-body-mole-map.pdf. June 2017. 

* Levy, Ross M., MD. https://www.sharecare.com/health/skin-cancer-diagnosis/what-is-skin-mapping. June 2017. 

* "Total Body Photography". International Society for Digital Imaging of the Skin. http://isdis.net/imaging-modalities/total-body-photography/. June 2017. 

 

 

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2 comments

Thank you, Antonia! Being proactive is so important!

Ashley

This is such an important post! I have an appointment set up with my dermatologist just to make sure. It’s so important to self check! Beautiful blog!

Antonia

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