Definition

What are moles?

Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming raised and/or changing color. Sometimes, hairs develop in the mole. Some moles may not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over time.

How common are moles?

Moles are common. Most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 25 years of a person’s life. It is normal to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of moles?

The typical mole is a brown spot. But moles come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes:

  • Color and texture. Moles can be brown, tan, black, red, blue or pink. They can be smooth, wrinkled, flat or raised. They may have hair growing from them.
  • They can vary in shape from oval to round.
  • Moles are usually less than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters) in diameter — the size of a pencil eraser. Rarely, moles present at birth can be much bigger, covering wide areas of the face, torso or a limb.

Moles can develop anywhere on your body, including your scalp, armpits, under your nails, and between your fingers and toes. Most people have 10 to 45 moles. Most of these develop by age 40. Moles may change in appearance over time — some may even disappear with age. Hormonal changes of adolescence and pregnancy may cause moles to become darker, larger and more numerous.

Unusual moles that may indicate melanoma

This ABCDE guide can help you determine if a mole or a spot may be melanoma:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape. One half is unlike the other half.
  • B is for border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders.
  • C is for color. Look for growths that have changed color, have many colors or have uneven color.
  • D is for diameter. Look for new growth in amole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters).
  • E is for evolving. Watch for moles that change in size, shape, color or height, especially if part or all of a mole turns black.

Cancerous (malignant) moles vary greatly in appearance. Some may show all of the features listed above. Others may have only one or two.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if you have a mole that:

  • Is painful
  • Itches or burns
  • Oozes or bleeds
  • Shows any of the ABCDE characteristics listed above
  • Grows back after having been removed before
  • Is new and you’re over 30 years old

If you’re concerned about any mole, see your doctor or ask for a referral to a doctor who specializes in skin conditions (dermatologist).

Causes

What causes moles?

Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles may darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for moles?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is moles diagnosed?

Your doctor can identify moles by visually inspecting your skin. You may choose to make a skin examination a regular part of your preventive medical care. Talk to your doctor about a schedule that’s appropriate for you. During a skin exam, your doctor inspects your skin from head to toe.

If your doctor suspects that a mole may be cancerous, he or she may take a tissue sample (biopsy) and submit it for microscopic examination.

How is moles treated?

Treatment of most moles usually isn’t necessary. If your doctor thinks a mole is suspicious, he or she may take a tissue sample of it and have it tested to determine if it’s cancerous.

Mole removal

If your mole is cancerous, your doctor will do a surgical procedure to remove it. If you have a mole in the beard area, you may want to have it removed by your doctor because shaving over it repeatedly may cause irritation. You may also want to have moles removed from other parts of your body that are vulnerable to trauma and friction.

Mole removal takes only a short time and is usually done on an outpatient basis. The procedure may leave a permanent scar. Options for mole removal include:

  • Surgical excision. In this method, your doctor numbs the area around the mole and cuts out the mole and a surrounding margin of healthy skin with a scalpel or a sharp punch device. Then he or she closes the wound with sutures.
  • Surgical shave. In this method, your doctor numbs the area around the mole and uses a small blade to cut around and beneath it. This technique is often used for smaller moles and doesn’t require sutures.

If you notice that a mole has grown back, see your doctor promptly.

Cosmetic care

If you’re self-conscious about a mole, these methods may help conceal it:

  • Various products are available for concealing blemishes and moles. You may need to try several before you find one that works for you.
  • Hair removal. If you have a hair growing from a mole, you might try clipping it close to the skin’s surface or plucking it. Or talk with your dermatologist about permanently removing the hair and the mole.

Anytime you cut or irritate a mole, keep the area clean. See your doctor if the mole doesn’t heal.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage moles?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with moles:

  • Avoid peak sun times. It’s best to avoid overexposure to the sun. If you must be outdoors, try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
  • Use sunscreen year-round. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before going outdoors, even on cloudy days. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply it generously and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or sweating. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Cover up. Sunglasses, broad-brimmed hats, long sleeves and other protective clothing can help you avoid damaging UV rays. You might also want to consider clothing that’s made with fabric specially treated to block UV radiation.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 24, 2017 | Last Modified: November 24, 2017

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