Skin is the body's most accessible organ—one that you can see, touch, and smell. This can work in your favor, seeing as you're more likely to notice a new mole or recognize changes in an existing mole and have it evaluated quickly. However, it can be a concern when you're worried about a spot and then tempted to remove a mole at home. When assessing skin spots, don't panic; not all moles are cause for concern. Regardless, it's important that you have a board-certified Dermatologist regularly evaluate your moles and let you know if any should be removed.

What Is a Mole?

Moles occur when melanocytes—cells that give skin its natural color—grow in a cluster rather than spreading throughout the skin. These pigment-producing cells get close and create a little huddle that appears on the skin as a flat or raised lesion, which is called a mole, or nevus. There are three types of moles:

Congenital moles: These are benign growths that are present at birth. They can be any size, whether small as a few millimeters or giant, taking up the entire surface of a body part.

Acquired moles: A benign lesion that can develop any time between childhood and the third to fourth decade of life. Generally, an individual has an average of 10-40 acquired nevi on the skin. Having 50 or more increases the risk of melanoma. These growths can be flat or raised, skin-colored, pinkish, tan, shades of brown, or even blue. They usually are smaller than 6 mm (about the size of a standard pencil eraser), with symmetric, round borders and even color throughout.

Atypical moles: Moles that can be larger or smaller than 6 mm, asymmetric, have jagged borders, or have an irregular color pattern. An atypical mole may look like a skin cancer called melanoma, but they are benign. Still, they often require removal.

When Do Moles Need to Be Removed?

There are a few circumstances that require mole removal. If a mole has changed or appears different in some way, a board-certified Dermatologist may opt to shave off the lesion for a biopsy to determine its exact nature. If a biopsied mole is found to have atypical cells (meaning it is precancerous or cancerous), it will often require complete surgical removal. This is a bit more involved as it entails removing a predetermined margin of normal skin and, many times, suturing.

Sometimes, a patient may not like the way a mole looks and, for cosmetic reasons, will elect to have it removed. In this case, the doctor will review different options so the optimal outcome and appearance is achieved.

It's important to note that all removed moles are biopsied. A biopsy is a procedure wherein after the mole is removed, it's sent to a lab in a container of formalin so that it may be further examined under a microscope.

At-Home or DIY Mole Removal

It is never advisable to remove a mole at home. Self-removal can result in bleeding, infection, scarring, and the most worrisome outcome, a missed skin cancer because it has not been biopsied.

Some patients may try over-the-counter treatments for warts or skin tags. Some patients even tie strings around tags and put apple cider vinegar on moles. However, it is prudent to always consult with a board-certified Dermatologist prior to attempting at-home procedures or buying products that claim to cure new growths. The Derm will guide you on what exactly the lesion is and how it can or should be managed. Skipping this step could mean risking your health.

When to See a Dermatologist

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends yearly visits to a Dermatologist for skin cancer screenings. You should also conduct monthly checks of your skin health. If you happen upon a new spot during your monthly check or notice a change in a mole, seek a professional evaluation. In the end, taking good care of your skin will reflect your overall health.

Author

  • Dr. Mona Gohara is a Connecticut-based Dermatologist and associate professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. She has a particular interest in skin cancer prevention and treatment for skin of color. Dr. Gohara spends a lot of time outdoors with her husband, son, and two dogs, Coco and Cleo. They all wear sunscreen.