What is a mole?
A mole, or nevus, is a common skin growth made of a proliferation of pigment cells, or melanocytes. The number of moles a person has is influenced by genetics and sun exposure. They can occur on any part of the body, including the face. Moles can be flat or raised; brown, black, pink or skin-colored. Most moles are benign and do not cause any harm, but moles do have the potential to change and become atypical, or even cancerous. Melanoma develops when the melanocytes that make up a typical mole begin to grow out of control. Melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer, but it is the most dangerous type, because it can spread to other parts of the body. The incidence of melanoma has been rising in recent years.
What Kind of Moles Need to be Removed?
Moles need be removed for one of two main reasons: they are changing in a concerning way, or they are irritated and causing pain or other symptoms. Of course, moles can also be removed for purely cosmetic reasons – you’d just prefer the mole not to be where it is – and in this case, the removal is considered an optional cosmetic procedure.
Moles that are changing in a concerning way need to be removed and tested by a dermatopathologist to check for any cancerous features, including the development of melanoma. We use the acronym “ABCDE” to help patients remember what types of changes should prompt a visit to the dermatologist:
A benign mole is typically symmetric, so that if you folded it in half, one side would look like the other. When a mole appears asymmetrical, it can be a sign that it is changing in a concerning way.
B: Border irregularity
A smooth border is typical of a benign mole. If the border of a mole appears notched, scalloped, or jagged, you should show it to your dermatologist.
Multiple colors present within one mole is a concerning feature. A benign mole is often the same shade of brown, black, or pink.
A mole that is larger than your other moles can sometimes be concerning. A good rule of thumb is that a mole larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil eraser, should be evaluated.
In general, any new change that you notice in a mole – whether a change in size, shape, color, or even symptom (like itching or bleeding) – should cause you to see your dermatologist.
If you have a mole on your face – or anywhere on your body – that meets any of the ABCDE criteria above, it’s best to set up an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist to have it evaluated.
Moles can also be removed if they have become irritated. Sometimes moles on the face are elevated, and can get in the way of shaving, haircuts, or skin care treatments. Irritated moles can itch, hurt, and even bleed. This is another medical indication that a mole needs to be removed.
If you are considering whether a mole on your face needs to be removed, the place to start is with an evaluation with your dermatologist. At Clara Dermatology, we will look closely at your mole for any concerning features, and if necessary, talk through the different options available for mole removal. Moles on the face can be removed by several different methods to give the best cosmetic results.