Skin moles are one of the most common types of skin growths and can be found on any part of the body. A mole has the alternative name of nevus, with the plural nevi. All parts of the skin include a special type of cells, named melanocytes, which produce the pigment melanin that gives skin its color and protects it from the action of sunlight. Moles appear when these cells cluster together at the surface.
Most moles are harmless but two particular types can be potentially dangerous. About one in 100 people have moles since they are born, these are named congenital nevi. Congenital nevi have a higher chance to evolve into skin cancer, compared to moles that occur later in life. They should be monitored and any changes in size or color should be reported to a doctor.
The second dangerous type is atypical moles, also known as dysplastic nevi. They tend to be larger than the normal ones, with an uneven shape. Usually, their edges are jagged and the color is variable, from a dark brown core to lighter sides. Sometimes, their border is red and tiny black dots can be present around the edges. Dysplastic nevi appear to have a genetic cause, since they run in the family. People affected by them have a larger number of moles, sometimes over 100, with an increased risk of skin cancer.
People can have a large number of moles on their skin, but not all of them are the same. It is important to monitor your skin and be able to tell the difference between harmless moles and potentially dangerous ones.
Every adult person has moles, usually between 10 and 40. They are typically found on the body parts most exposed to the sun. The body half above the waist is the most vulnerable but moles rarely appear in some areas such as the breast, buttocks or the scalp. They can be found alone or in clusters, with a brown or black color.
Moles start appearing in childhood and new ones keep emerging in time, until around the age of 40, when between 10 and 40 can be found on average. After this age, they start disappearing on their own.
In time, moles can change their color, shape or profile. This is usually a very slow process. Some moles remain the same in time, others might fade away completely, while some can grow hairs right in their middle.
A normal mole looks like a dark spot on the skin but there can be numerous variations in shape, size and color. The shape can be round, oval or irregular. The size is usually less than 6 mm in diameter (roughly equal to a pencil eraser). However, congenital nevi present since birth can be much larger, spreading across an entire limb or the face. The color is usually brown or black but can also be red, pink or even blue. Thick hairs are sometimes growing in the middle of a mole. The profile of a mole can be flat or raised, with a smooth or rough surface.
Any skin area of the body can have moles, although some locations are more likely than others. Unusual areas are under the nails, between toes and fingers or under the armpits. Some moles remain unchanged but others evolve in time and can expand or disappear completely. Hormones can cause them to increase and become darker, especially during puberty.
Most moles don't require any kind of treatment and can be safely ignored. Doctors can perform a biopsy on a fragment of a mole, if they suspect it could be a tumor, in order to establish a diagnostic.
Cancerous moles must be eliminated through a surgical procedure. The ones in areas of the body where there is a lot of pressure or rubbing can also be removed. The most common moles removed through surgery are the ones in the beard, since shaving will constantly irritate and cut them.
Moles can be removed quickly and there is no need for admission to a hospital. However, it is possible that a permanent scar will remain in the area. There are several options available.
The classic option is removing the moles through excision. After applying a local anesthetic, a scalpel is used to completely remove the mole and some of the healthy tissues around it. Suture is usually needed to close the resulting wound.
The second variant is the so-called shave. This doesn't require suture and is effective for smaller moles. It is similar to the other procedure, with a small blade used to detach the mole from the tissues around and under it.