What Causes Moles?
Moles occur when melanocytes, the cells that produce pigment in the skin, cluster together instead of evenly distributing pigment. This phenomenon can occur naturally and harmlessly or due to damage from ultraviolet (UV) light. Moles that result from sun damage may be more likely to turn into skin cancer. However, most moles are completely benign.
What Types of Moles Are There?
There are four basic types of moles.
- Congenital moles, or moles you are born with
- Acquired moles, or benign moles that occur after you are born
- Spitz nevi (moles), raised, pink, dome-shaped moles that typically appear before age 20
- Atypical moles, which are abnormal appearing and should be closely monitored for progression to melanoma
Atypical moles are not cancerous, but can sometimes mimic melanoma in appearance. If these moles have sufficient atypia, they are often removed as a precaution to prevent possible development into melanoma. Signs of atypia follow the same ABCDE guidelines for melanoma:
- Irregular or poorly defined Borders
- Uneven Color
- Diameter >6mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
- Evolution in shape, size, or color
Who Gets Moles?
Moles are extremely common, and nearly all adults have at least a few moles. Usually, these moles are either congenital or acquired moles. Often, moles will be more common in certain families as there is a strong genetic component to these skin lesions.
How Can I Prevent Moles?
Moles typically are not preventable. You may be born with moles or develop them as you age.
However, moles that result from UV damage can sometimes be prevented by avoiding excess sun exposure, wearing sunscreen regularly, and wearing UV protective clothing whenever possible. These sun-protective habits can protect your skin from melanoma and other serious skin conditions. In addition, they can help prevent the development of moles as well as signs of aging like sunspots.
Why Treat Moles?
If a mole is benign, you can still choose to have it removed. First, you may wish to have a mole removed for cosmetic reasons, particularly if it is large or in a very noticeable area. You may also choose to have a mole removed if it is irritating and rubs or catches on clothing or jewelry. Attempting to remove your mole at home should always be avoided, as you can cause unnecessary damage to your skin, infection, or scarring. Your dermatologist can safely and effectively remove a mole for you through a simple procedure.
How Can I Treat Moles?
Moles are removed by surgical shaving or surgical excision. In either case, your dermatologist will numb the skin prior to the procedure. Your dermatologist may also recommend a shave removal test for atypical moles to ensure your health. More information on mole removal can be found here.
Schedule an Appointment
If you have a mole that is concerning you or you simply wish to have it safely removed, a dermatologist can help.