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Melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Moles are caused when melanocytes grow in clusters or clumps. Moles are very common — most people have between 10 and 40 on their body — and they can be different colors, such as pink, tan, brown, or a color that is very close to your skin tone. Sun protection with appropriate clothing and sunscreen is the best way to avoid mole development. Avoiding tanning lamps and beds is also helpful.

Types of Moles

Most skin moles fall into one of three categories:

  • Congenital moles: Moles that are present at birth.
  • Common moles: Harmless moles that appear on the body — most people have common moles.
  • Atypical moles: These moles are irregular and poorly defined, vary in color, and are larger than common moles.

The ABCDEs of Moles

When evaluating moles for the threat of cancer, a common protocol includes checking the “ABCDEs”. This acronym stands for Asymmetry, Borders, Color, Diameter, and Evolving. Here’s what to look for with each of these signs:

  • Asymmetry: One side of the mole doesn’t match the other side.
  • Borders: The mole has irregular borders.
  • Color: The mole is dark black, red, white, or multi-colored.
  • Diameter: The mole’s diameter exceeds 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser).
  • Evolving: The mole is visibly changing in size, shape, or color. A mole that is suddenly itchy, inflamed, bleeding, or scabby should also be examined.

The American Academy of Dermatology has more information about the ABCDEs.

Mole Removal and Treatment

If moles are suspected of being cancerous or unwanted for aesthetic reasons, they’re typically removed using one of two common procedures: surgical shaving or surgical excision. Surgical shaving involves skimming the mole off the surface, often including a layer of skin below the mole, with a sharp blade. Surgical excision involves cutting out the mole, and sometimes some surrounding tissue, and then stitching the area closed. This method is typically for larger moles.

Are Skin Tags and Moles the Same?

Moles and skin tags are slightly different. Skin tags typically consist of loose, hanging skin but aren’t usually something to be concerned about. Like most moles, skin tags do not require removal or treatment.If you have moles, it’s important to keep an inventory of their number, location, and appearance. If your moles change in size, shape, or color, or if you develop new moles as an adult, you should schedule an appointment to have them evaluated and possibly removed by one of our Providers.

We offer mole removal at Alaska Center for Dermatology.