What Are Skin Moles?

Skin Care Questions
What Are Moles?

A mole is a small patch of skin that is brown/black in color, although it may be pinkish in color in fair-skinned people. They can be flat, raised or have a hair growing through them. While moles can be present at birth (and in such instances they are considered a type of birthmark), they tend to appear within the first 30 years of life. People with fair skin and those who spend a lot of time in the sun are more prone to developing moles. Most adults will have 10 to 30 moles on their body. After middle age moles tend to gradually fade. In the vast majority of cases they pose no health risk but they should be watched carefully because certain changes can signal the start of skin cancer (melanoma).

Types Of Moles: PICTURES

Melanocytic nevus (plural nevi): These are the most common type of mole and consist of a nest of cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that produce the color (pigment) of the skin called melanin. These moles are typically brown, round and flat.
Dermal melanocytic nevi: Raised, pale and sometimes hairy.
Compound melanocytic nevi: Also raised, light brown and sometimes hairy.
Halo nevi: Rarer type of mole surrounded by a white ring where the skin has lost its color.
Dysplastic or atypical nevi (also called clark nevi): Larger moles than come in a range of colors and may be flat or bumpy. These types of moles tend to be hereditary and appear in greater numbers between the ages of 5 and 8.
Blue nevi: Rare, dark blue mole. Can appear anywhere on the body, including the head.

How Are Moles Treated?

Moles do not require treatment, although occasionally a person will have them surgically removed for cosmetic purposes. Large moles on the face may be unsightly or underarm moles may be a nuisance if you cut them while shaving or if they catch on your clothes. These types of moles can be surgically removed although surgery is expensive (cosmetic surgery is unlikely to be covered by your health insurance) and it can leave a scar. A surgical excision is more likely to be performed if the doctor suspects the mole is cancerous (this should be covered by health insurance). If you want to remove a mole because it is a nuisance, shave excision is a cheaper option. This is where the surgeon shaves the mole off so it is level with the rest of your skin. The wound is then closed by cauterization.

When Are Moles A Sign Of Cancer?

In the vast majority of cases, moles remain benign and harmless (although some choose to have them removed for cosmetic purposes if they are unsightly). However, as there is always the risk that a mole could become cancerous, you should keep an eye on their appearance for any changes. The American Cancer Society recommends using the ABCD rule for early detection of skin cancer:

A: Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other.
B: Border irregularity: Moles have smooth circular or oval borders. Cancerous moles have uneven, ragged edges.
C: Color change: Most moles only have 1 or 2 colors running through them but cancer (melanomas) have lots of different shades.
D: Diameter: The area is growing.

How To Prevent Your Moles Turning Cancerous

• If you have lots of moles, you should take extra care in the sun. Although it’s not always possible to prevent skin cancer, avoiding overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light can reduce your risks. It also reduces your risk of premature aging (see, what is a wrinkle?).
• Avoid lying in the sun between 11am and 3pm when it is at its strongest.
• Use a sunscreen with a sun factor of at least SPF15 and apply every 2 hours in the sun.
• Cover large moles with a plaster (the type you put on a cut) while in the sun.
• Never use sun beds or sunlamps.

Related Questions
What is a spot? and what is acne? And how to tell which is which.
When does the skin start aging? When fine lines first appear.

• Got another question? See: Skin Care Questions or Skin Structure and Function

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