Guide To Moles: What To Look Out For & When To Worry?
When it comes to our skin health, it’s better to be safe than sorry. While it is true that most of the time, the moles on our body are nothing to worry about, as most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 25 years of a person’s life. Hence, it is normal for an individual to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood. However, this doesn’t mean that we should put our guard down, especially when we spot something unusual in our skin which could be the first sign of something more concerning.
According to Claire Crilly, Skin Cancer Screening Specialist, she pointed out that “Moles are like a family. There should always be another mole that looks similar.” However, if a mole does not look or fit your body, it is still best to seek a professional opinion or help from a dermatologist. With that, it is incredibly important for everyone to self-monitor all their moles every three months as the common moles (they may disguise themselves in the early stages) on your skin may have the potential to become cancerous. Other than the above, this could also help to serve as a reassurance to you.
To get us started sussing out on a new mole pop up or an old one that is acting a little funky, we would first need to understand what precisely a mole is? And what kind of moles are there, and why do moles get cancerous?
What are moles?
Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. However, as the years pass, the moles may slowly change in colour (commonly brown or black) / or slowly elevated from the skin. At times, hair can also develop within the mole. In rare cases, moles can also gradually disappear as one ages.
Aside from the above information about moles, some of you ladies (and guys, we haven’t forgotten about you) may be asking what causes a mole to form and who are more likely to get moles?
What causes a mole to form?
Moles usually form when cells (melanocytes) in the skin grow in a cluster instead of spreading evenly throughout the skin, which is why they look dark in colour. Melanocytes are typically the cells that create pigments and give our skin its natural colour based on our heredity.
Hence, do you know that sun damage plays a considerable role in the development of moles? Yes. The sun, and what we meant here, are the UV rays. Most moles that develop in adulthood tend to occur more on the parts of the body that are exposed to the sun (ultraviolet radiation), and the number of moles an individual has may increase after extended time in the sun. The colour of the moles also tends to darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.
Who is more likely to get moles or at a higher risk of developing cancerous moles?
As mentioned in the above segment, individuals who frequently spend their time under the sun without any form of sun protection (sunscreen, etc.) have a higher tendency to get moles and a heightened risk of developing cancerous moles.
However, it is also noted that individuals who have pale skin that burns easily, red or blonde hair or a close family member who’s had melanoma (Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that begins in cells known as melanocytes.) are more susceptible to the risk of developing cancerous moles. Yes, this means that the cells (melanocytes) that create pigments and give us the natural skin colour and cause moles to form may also have chances of developing into cancer cells.
Melanoma is the result in which these melanocytes cells develop mutations – changes in their DNA – that make them grow out of control. And, you would have asked, what does the sun have to do with moles, melanocytes and melanoma? Succinctly, overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage DNA in skin cells, causing mutations that could lead to melanocytes dividing out of control. Thus, resulting in an overall increase in moles, chances of melanoma from forming and further disguising as a mole.
How can we prevent both melanoma and moles from sprouting?
In short, melanoma isn’t always preventable, but we can all try to reduce the risk of developing it by avoiding getting sun damage. You can help protect yourself from sun damage by using sunscreen and dressing sensibly in the sun (by wearing hats, sunglasses and covering up with clothing). Individuals can also try to avoid sunbeds or sun lamps.
If you are interested in getting some trusty sunscreen, feel free to take a look at our Dr Shens Skin Care’s Sunscreens!
The above precautions to reduce sun damages would help reduce moles from forming too.
What types of moles are there?
For the curious minds, there are actually many types of common moles and here is the list:
Types of common moles:
Junctional Naevus: These are generally flat moles with dark uniform pigments. The majority of the mole cells (cluster of melanocytes) for junctional naevus tend to sit at the junction of the surface layer of the skin and the thick layer of skin directly beneath the epidermis.
Dermal Naevus: The dermal naevus, as the name suggested, sits in the dermis layer, and it rises from beneath the skin. Thus, creating a raised domed mole, often with a light brown or pink shade.
Compound Naevus: Ever heard of a mole that rises from another mole? Here’s a pretty special one! A compound naevus is a mole that arises from a flat mole (junctional naevus) that exists earlier in life and may have a raised central portion of deeper pigmentation with surrounding tan-brown macular pigmentation.
The pigmentation may be uneven within the naevus (as it arises from another mole) but is usually symmetrically distributed. They are usually of a round/oval shape and roughly 2 mm – 7 mm in diameter. Moreover, the compound naevus may also exist with a variable degree of pigmentation and even be the same colour as the surrounding skin.
Combined Naevus: Taking into account that the compound naevus is formed by arising from existing flat moles, the combined naevus differentiate itself in a slightly different way. The combined naevus has two (or sometimes even three) cytologically distinct populations of melanocytes in the same lesion. The two forms of moles usually maintain not only their cytological identity but also their architectural characteristics, appearing “side by side” or one above the other.
Blue Naevus: The blue naevus is a type of melanocytic naevus that sits deep in the dermis layer, thus, creating a blue tint to the pigmentation seen on the skin.
Types of cancerous moles:
As for cancerous moles, here are the types and signs to look out for:
- Basal Cell Carcinomas
- Squamous Cell Carcinomas
- Malignant melanomas
For most cases, the cancerous mole lumps tend to get bigger and may become crusty, bleed, itchy or develop into a painless ulcer. They can be nodular, flat, raised, superficial and/or deep.
With the above information, which has helped us identify the moles better, let us delve into the tips on sussing out all the moles!
How do we go about checking our moles?
At Shens Aesthetics, we would recommend individuals look at their skin after a shower in a long mirror every 3 months, assess the body (both front and back), and focus on hidden places such as your hands, feet, and feet, fingers and down to the toes.
As we have mentioned in the earlier segment, individuals could check for irregularities in the symmetry of their moles (as most of them should look similar). Be sure also to check the moles’ edges to ensure they are notched or ragged (melanoma tends to have blurred edges as pigment spreads to the surrounding skin).
The other signs to look out for would be the mole’s diameter, colour, and whether it has changed in size or shape over time.
Mole removal treatments
Individuals who are looking to get their moles checked or removing the moles for aesthetics reasons could seek help from a dermatologist, aesthetic doctor or a surgeon. During the treatment, the experts will review the moles, and individuals could choose to get their moles surgically removed on the spot. Hence, it is important that any moles removed are histologically reviewed to confirm the diagnosis. This could also help to assure the individuals looking to get their moles checked.
However, there are many ways in which individuals can get their moles removed by the experts, such as:
Laser Removal: If the mole is small, it may be removed by laser removal, which helps break down the pigment in the skin.
Surgical Excision: This procedure is where the mole is cut out of the skin, and the skin is repaired with stitches, leaving a scar in its place. Hence, surgical excision is performed under local anaesthetic, and a linear scar will be left, which tends to fade over time.
Shave Excision: If a mole is raised or protrudes from the skin, a shave excision can be performed to remove only the top section of the mole, leaving mole cells under the surface of the skin. The shave excision is performed under local anaesthetic. This is usually done using a scalpel and is relatively straightforward and painless. You may see a pink mark on your skin where the mole was, but this will fade over time.
At Shens Aesthetics, we hope that you have gained some profound insights into the moles on your body. If you’re concerned about a changing or growing mole or anything else, please do not hesitate to seek help from a dermatologist or ask our professional therapists for a referral.
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