The makers of a number of skin cancer apps say their products can be used to assess your risk for skin cancer and to help you monitor your body's moles for potentially worrisome changes. Using such tools could make at-home skin checks of moles much easier, especially for moles that are located in hard-to-see parts of your body. But can they really help you?

How Skin Cancer Apps Are Used

Typically, a skin cancer app requires users to photograph their moles with a smartphone. Then, the user enters requested information about the moles, such as their diameter and color.

The skin cancer apps then determine whether a mole’s likelihood of becoming a melanoma—which is the most potentially deadly of the skin cancers—is low, medium, or high.

Skin Cancer App Effectiveness

The Federal Trade Commission has found that at least some skin cancer apps’ marketing claims aren't backed by evidence. In 2015, marketers of two such apps, MelApp and Mole Detective, agreed to settle with the FTC and to stop claiming that their apps could detect melanoma risk, even in the cancer's early stages. According to the FTC, "The marketers lacked adequate evidence to support such claims."

And a 2013 study published in JAMA Dermatology, which looked at how accurately four skin cancer apps assessed images of moles, found that three of the four incorrectly classified 30 to 93 percent of melanomas as nothing to be concerned about.

In addition, while these skin cancer apps may encourage people to be more aware of moles and other skin growths, there may be other tradeoffs. According to Laura K. Ferris, M.D., one of the study’s authors, app users may pick and choose the moles they photograph—possibly overlooking a malignant lesion—or rely on apps instead of seeing a dermatologist, who is better able to detect early melanoma.

So if you notice a change in a mole, don’t rely on a skin cancer app to assess it. Instead, make an appointment with a dermatologist.