How to Identify Skin Moles

Moles come in many shapes, sizes, and forms that can tell us important things about our skin’s health. Although many people tend to ignore their moles and simply think of them as innocent brown spots on their bodies, it’s important to understand the varieties of moles and identify them to prevent skin cancer.

A mole is a dark, raised spot on the skin that’s comprised of skin cells which have grown in a group rather than individually. These groups of skin cells are called melanocytes, which are responsible for producing melanin (the pigment of our skin). Some people are genetically born with moles, while other develop them over time from sun exposure. The number of moles on a body varies, but it’s more common to see them on fair-skinned people due to the lower amounts of melanin in their skin. Moles also come and go with hormonal changes that occur naturally during specific times in our lives, such as puberty and pregnancy. Most people develop new moles with age and sun exposure, and generally these are harmless. Nevertheless, it’s highly recommended that you conduct skin checks regularly to identify new moles or changes in existing ones.

Types of Skin Moles

Every mole is unique and can be categorized by different factors such as when they developed, where they’re located, and whether they show “typical” or “atypical” symptoms. Here’s a breakdown:

Common. A common mole is usually about 5-6mm in diameter, with distinct edges and a smooth, dome-like surface. They usually due to regular exposure to the sun and have the potential to turn into skin cancer, but it’s rare.

Atypical. Atypical moles show “irregular” symptoms. These include fuzzy or blurry borders, variations in color, large size, and having both raised and flat surfaces. While some atypical moles share pre-cancerous or cancerous signs, most are benign. Keep in mind that people with atypical moles have an increased chance of skin cancer and should do regular self-examinations to detect any chances.

Congenital. These moles are found on the body at birth and are caused by melanocyte cells in the middle and outer layers of skin. They can range in size and are sometimes referred to as birthmarks. Congenital moles can be at risk of developing melanoma later in life and should be monitored in adolescence and adulthood.

Acquired. The most common type, acquired moles develop during childhood and adulthood, but are mostly benign and harmless. They can turn cancerous with age, which is caused by repeated sun exposure.

Moles that are considered “safe,” meaning not at risk for cancer have the following features:

  • Neat edges
  • Smooth or dome-like shapes
  • Around 6mm in diameter
  • Remain the same shape, size, or color over time

Moles that may be cancerous show the following signs:

  • Changes in size (getting larger)
  • Changes in shape (irregular edges)
  • Changes in color (darkening or multiple shades)
  • Loss of symmetry (no longer round or oval)
  • Itchiness or pain (scabbing)
  • Crustiness
  • Inflammation

If you have moles on your body, the best thing to do is check them frequently to identify any changes over time. If you’re not sure what to look for or are concerned about a mole, our board-certified dermatologist Dr. Heather Loesch and certified physician’s assistant Megan McNamara are happy to make a skin check appointment with you and answer any questions. Contact our skin care center today so you can start feeling more confident about your skin!