Moles

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Skin Cancer Slideshow

What causes moles, and what are risk factors for developing moles?

The genes we inherit from our parents, along with the amount of sun to which we are exposed (especially during childhood) are major factors in determining mole numbers. Skin with more sun exposure tends to have more moles. However, moles may also occur in sun-protected areas like the palms, soles, and genitals.

Both moles and freckles (medically termed ephelides) are darker than the surrounding skin. Moles may be raised or completely flat while freckles are always totally flat. Freckles and "sun spots" (medically termed lentigines) are due to an increase in the amount of dark pigment called melanin. Moles are more common in people prone to freckles. Freckles are flat spots that are tan, slightly reddish, or light-brown and typically appear during the sunny months. They are most often found in people with light complexions. Many people with blond or red hair and green or blue eyes are more prone to these types of skin spots. Sun avoidance and sun protection, including the regular use of sunscreen may help to suppress the appearance of some types of moles and freckles.

Moles occur in all races (Caucasian, Asian, African, and Indian) and skin colors. Moles also are seen in animals.

Do babies get moles?

Yes. Moles may be present at birth or gradually appear later in the newborn period. Many children continue to develop moles through the teenage years and into young adulthood. Moles tend to grow very slightly in proportion to normal body growth. Congenital moles are those present at birth and so must have been present during fetal development. Other moles may arise later as a result of factors that are not genetic but environmental, such as sun exposure.

Can I still get new moles as an adult?

Yes. While many moles arise in the first years of life, the total number of moles typically peaks in the second or third decade of life to an average of 35. Most people do not develop new regular moles after the age of 30. Adults often develop non-mole growths like freckles, lentigines, "liver spots," and seborrheic keratoses in later adulthood.

New moles appearing after age 35 may require close observation, medical evaluation, and possible biopsy. A brand-new mole in an adult may be a sign of an evolving abnormal mole or early melanoma. It is important to have any new or changing mole evaluated by a dermatologist.

What else could it be?

There are many mole simulators, including freckles, lentigines, liver spots, seborrheic keratoses, melanomas, neurofibromas, hemangiomas, skin tags, café au lait macules, and pigmented basal cell cancers. The optimal way to distinguish between these other growths is by consultation with a dermatologist, which may include a skin biopsy. Sometimes, a mole may occur adjacent to or on top of a non-mole growth like a freckle or seborrheic keratosis. When in doubt, a skin biopsy can be very helpful in diagnosis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015
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  • Moles - Seborrheic keratoses

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