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Slice of watermelon representing how to check and treat your mole

How to check your moles – and how to treat them

Written by
Lucy Foster

Most people have moles. It’s not unusual for babies to be born with them, and more will grow over our childhood years. In truth, most of us will have 10 to 40 moles by the time we are adults, and they can come and go over the course of our lifetime. But while most are harmless and remain so, some moles can cause issues. So, what can you do to keep your moles healthy?

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Why do we get them?

Because most moles are benign, there isn’t lots of research on why some people have more moles and others hardly any. What is known is that moles often appear on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun (arms, cheekbones, hands) and the number of moles present may increase after long periods in the sun. Yet, moles are also found on areas of the body that aren’t exposed to UV light, so sun exposure is not the whole picture. Recent research from 2019 has shown that the number and placement of moles can also be assigned to genetics. Along with genes and lifestyle, moles are susceptible to change during periods of hormone fluctuation such as pregnancy and puberty where they often get much darker and larger.

Are all moles prone to become cancerous?

Absolutely not. Although UV rays have been shown to be a major cause of melanoma (the type of skin cancer that develops from moles) it doesn’t necessarily follow that all moles are going to be cancerous. Some people – those with fair skin and hair or with a family history of skin cancer – are more susceptible to melanomas and need to take suitable precautions in the sun. Similarly, people with a lot of moles are at increased risk too, simply on grounds of probability. However, there are instances where people with no family history of skin cancer, few moles and very little exposure to UV still develop melanomas, so it pays to be vigilant.

Woman touching her shoulder representing how to check and treat your mole

When and how should I check my moles?

The answer to this is: probably more often than you already do. Monitoring your moles monthly will mean you’ll be quick to spot any changes if anything appears different. And there are several warning signs you need to watch for and require a prompt medical check.

  • Put a reminder in your diary or phone to check moles once a month.
  • Keep a diary and count of how many moles you have and highlight any that stand out in size of colour.
  • Take pictures. It can be hard to remember month to month if there has been a change, especially if those changes take place slowly and subtly.
  • Look for moles that appear markedly different from other moles on your body, particularly if they appeared after you turned 25. If the mole’s colour, shape, size, or height changes, it has irregular borders or has an asymmetric shape, or if it starts to itch, bleed, or become painful to touch, you should get professional advice.

What moles can be removed?

Obviously, cancerous moles should be removed as soon as possible and benign moles that looks like melanomas (Spitz nevus) are usually cut out too. However, if a mole is harmless but making you unhappy, you can have it removed.

Surgical removal

Surgical removal can leave a scar, which you need to consider, and the size of this scar will depend on your age, the margin of healthy skin the doctor needs to remove with the mole and the mole’s location.

Cryosurgery

Snowflakes representing how to check and treat your mole

An extremely cold solution, usually liquid nitrogen, freezes an area to a temperature between -210 and -195.5C, destroying the mole in question. Argon and carbon dioxide can also be used. The treated skin will form a scab that will fall off as the damaged skin heals.

Laser removal

Laser mole removal is less invasive with minimal to no scarring but works better on raised moles of a lighter pigment.

Shave removal

Shave removal is when a protruding mole is ‘shaved’ off with a scalpel under local anaesthetic and it leaves a pink scar that fades over time.

All the above are short, straightforward procedures that take around 30 minutes.

How should I look after my moles?

Using broad range SPF is one of the best-known methods of preventing UV damage along with keeping out of strong sunlight if you are fair, have skin that doesn’t tan, have lots of moles or have a family history of melanomas. Aside from UV damage, you should take care to keep moles clean if you cut or catch them and see a doctor if it continues to bleed. To remove hair from raised moles, you can either cut the hair close to the skin or pluck it. If your mole is small and flush to the skin, you can wax, shave, or use laser hair removal depending on the colour difference between the mole and the hair.

What skin treatments won’t damage my moles?

Most treatments are safe to use on moles. Your skin is unique to you and a consultation will address any concerns or limitations when it comes to treatment.

Chemical peels

Peeled lemon representing how to check and treat your mole

A chemical peel is an acid solution applied to the face to remove the outermost layer or layers of skin. It may diminish the appearance of some moles but is safe to use.

IPL (only on small, flat moles)

Intense pulsed light therapy is a type of light therapy used to treat wrinkles, spots, or unwanted hair. IPL is best to use if you only have small, flat moles. Big moles or freckles will be too dark and will attract the light.

Laser resurfacing treatments

Laser resurfacing is a facial rejuvenation treatment that can improve skin tone and texture but will not remove or damage healthy moles.

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