Summertime lends itself to showing a lot more skin. There are plenty of opportunities for checking out that mole on your back while you are walking around in spaghetti strap tops. In wintertime, your skin often doesn’t see the light of day, so you might be unaware of a suspicious mole on your back that is fully covered by a heavy sweater.
So now is a good time to do a thorough skin exam. Spending five minutes after your next shower (preferably under a heat lamp) to look yourself over could be one of the most important things you do for your health this winter. Here are four self checks you should be doing:
1. Check your fingernails and toenails.
It’s about time to take off those holiday themed acrylic nails, which will provide you the opportunity to examine the health of your nails. At home or in the nail salon, look at the cuticle and nail fold. Is it ragged, red, swollen, or tender? If so, it could be a sign of a nail infection. Look at the end of the nails. Are they splitting and flaking like layers of baklava? This can be from the nails drying out, which is often the result from too much hand washing. Try using alcohol hand sanitizers instead of washing. Apply hand cream to your hands and nails after every time you wash. Dark streaks or brown spots in your nails can be a sign of skin cancer. Any colored nail changes should be checked by a physician.
2. Look under your arms and on your neck.
Do you have thick brown skin? Are there little tabs of skin growing, called skin tags? Thickened velvety brown skin can be a condition called acanthosis nigricans. It often results when you have chronic elevated insulin levels. Elevated insulin can be an indicator or obesity and an early sign of developing diabetes. Similarly, skin tags can grow as a result of elevated insulin and can also be markers that you are heading towards developing diabetes.
3. Look for Moles.
With your tan faded, now is a great time to check out your skin for lingering damage from summer and for potentially dangerous skin cancers. Use a full length mirror and a hand mirror and stand in good light. Check yourself from head to toe. Any new or changing mole, any non-healing or crusted area, or any mole that is larger than 6 mm, has an irregular border, has more than one color, or has color that is asymmetric, should be examined by a physician.
4. Check your legs.
Flaky, dry skin means you are stripping too much natural oil off your skin and not replenishing it often enough. If skin becomes dry enough, an itchy red rash can develop called asteatotic eczema. It is your body’s way of telling you not only that are you too dry, but also your skin is no longer adequately protecting you and your immune system has to kick in to help out. It is a cry for help from your skin. Use only non-soap cleansers like Dove. Apply a thick moisturizer after every shower to slightly damp skin. Sometimes, especially in winter, it is not necessary to shower everyday or certainly not necessary to soap up your legs everyday. Give your skin a chance to replenish its own oils and keep you protected from the cold, dry onslaught of winter.
Photo: Laszlo Ilyes