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

How can moles be prevented?

Since we cannot change our own genetics, it is not possible to prevent all moles. The following prevention measures are aimed at sun avoidance and sun-protection and include

  1. using sunscreens with SPF (sun protection factor) 50;
  2. using wide-brimmed hats (6 inches);
  3. using sun-protective clothing (shirts, long sleeves, long pants);
  4. avoiding peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.;
  5. seeking shade and staying indoors.

Ideally, mole prevention is more effective than later trying to remove moles that have already developed. Mole removal will leave some type of scar at the site of the prior mole. Smaller moles are easier to remove and leave smaller scars. Larger mole removal often produce larger more unsightly scars.

When should I start sun protection?

Everyone, especially those with predisposed to freckling, should start sun protection early in childhood. Much of the sun and UV skin damage occurs often while children under age 18. Fair-skinned people who are more prone to freckling and sunburns are also generally more at risk for developing moles and skin cancers. Sun sensitivity and easy burning may be a warning sign of sensitive skin which is highly vulnerable to sunburn and to potential skin cancer.

How can moles be treated? What are different types of mole removal?

True moles can be treated by surgical removal. Moles cannot be treated by fading or lightening creams, bleaches, freezing, or other chemicals. Moles can easily be removed by fairly minor, in-office procedures, including shave removal, or full surgical excision.

Regular moles do not necessarily need to be treated. Changing or medically suspicious moles must be surgically removed and sent to a lab for special tissue examination called pathology.

Some people like their moles while others may be more bothered by their appearance. The cosmetic improvement of the skin is a frequent request among people with moles. Moles are desired by some people who feel they confer uniqueness (like Cindy Crawford). Other moles produce potential negative social perceptions.

Although lasers may be used in some countries and by some medical centers to remove some types of moles, laser treatments are not recommended for moles. Irregular moles need to be surgically removed and the tissue sent for testing. While sun spots or lentigines may respond to bleaching or fading creams, freezing with liquid nitrogen, laser, intense pulsed light, and chemical peels, true melanocytic nevi should not be treated by these methods.

Should my moles be removed using Mohs surgery?

No. Mohs surgery is not for mole removal. It is primarily designed for removing skin cancers. Moles are usually removed by standard or traditional surgery. The rapid freezing technique used for Mohs surgery tends to distort mole cells and may make the removed tissue more difficult to examine under the microscope.

Is there scarring from mole removal?

When the skin is cut, there will be some type of scaring produced by the healing process. Some people heal better than others. Some scars are more noticeable depending on their location and skin type.

There are many options for treatment of surgical scars, including lasers, scar creams and gels, cortisone injections, and many other choices depending on the scar. Discuss ways to help minimize scarring with a doctor.

Can a plastic surgeon remove my mole?

Yes. Plastic surgeons may have additional and specialized training in cosmetic skin-growth removal. Regardless of what type of doctor removes a mole, it is important to keep in mind that all mole removals will leave some type of scar.

Is there pain after mole removal surgery?

Most people report no or minimal discomfort after mole-removal surgery and require no pain medication. If there is pain, many people find that they prefer to take something for pain at the first hint of discomfort instead of waiting until the pain builds up to an unbearable level. If someone has mild or moderate pain, a doctor may advise taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or another pain reliever over the counter. Aspirin or aspirin-containing pain relievers may cause increased bleeding. Rarely, prescription pain medications may be required for severe pain.

Can my mole grow back after removal?

Yes, depending on how it was removed, there is a small chance that a mole can recur after mole surgery.

It is important to understand that no surgery has a 100% cure rate. A few mole cells may remain in the skin and may recur in the same or adjacent area. Some moles are more aggressive than others and need additional treatment and closer follow-up.

Good follow-up appointments with a physician are very important, especially in the first few years after irregular mole removal. Many people are seen every six to 12 months after their diagnosis of atypical moles. More regular follow-up appointments may be needed for those with more aggressive moles or moles in high-risk areas. A physician will recommend the proper follow-up for someone's specific condition.

Can people go out in the sun after mole removal surgery?

Yes. There are no specific sun restrictions after mole removal surgery. People may go out in the sun with sunscreen and protective hats and clothing. Overall, the sun is no one's friend and should be avoided in excess. Excess sun exposure has been linked to melanoma. Use of sunscreen or other cover-up on the scar is very helpful for at least six months after surgery to help minimize scarring. It is important to follow the physician's instructions for wound care and sun protection.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015
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  • Moles - Risk Factors

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  • Moles - Seborrheic keratoses

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  • Moles - Melanoma

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  • Moles - Skin Cancers

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  • Moles - Testing

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  • Moles - Types

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