Everything You Need to Know About Mole Removal
Moles are growths on the skin, usually brown or black, that can appear as flat or raised. While cancerous moles must be removed, benign moles don’t require any treatment. However, you may still wish to remove a benign mole that is unsightly or making you self-conscious.
This post will detail everything you need to know about the cosmetic removal of benign, non-cancerous moles.
What Are Moles?
Moles (Nevi) are common skin growths that are caused by pigment cells called melanocytes, which can cluster together along the skin. Moles appear as small brown spots and can manifest anywhere on the body.
How Moles Develop
When melanocytes cluster together, a mole occurs. Some moles are present at birth, while other moles develop during childhood. Most non-cancerous moles appear before age 25. By the time someone reaches adulthood, it’s common to have several moles. In fact, the average person has between 20 and 40 moles on their body.
Cancerous vs Non-Cancerous Moles
Most moles are not dangerous, and it’s normal for them to slowly change over time as part of the natural aging process. If you notice any of the following about your moles, it’s best to have a dermatologist look at it to ensure it’s benign.
- The mole appears in adulthood, or after the age of 25
- The mole has recently changed in height, color, shape or size
- The mole is asymmetrical
- The borders of the mole are irregular
- The color of the mole changes throughout, or has recently changed
- The diameter of the mole is larger than a pencil eraser
Some moles, even those you’ve had forever, can develop into skin cancer. However, it is not common practice to remove all moles as a “preventative” approach.
Mole Removal Options
If a dermatologist suspects the mole is cancerous, a biopsy will be performed, and the mole will be sampled for further evaluation and determine need for further treatment. If a mole is benign and being removed for purely cosmetic reasons, there are several removal options available including the following:
Mole Removal Topical Creams
For flat moles, peeling or whitening creams may help reduce the mole’s visibility over time. A consultation with a dermatologist can help you assess if this is an appropriate method of mole removal for your flat mole.
Deep chemical peels may be able to reduce the visibility of flat moles. A peel works by exfoliating the top layers of skin, which triggers newer skin cells to rise to the surface. Chemical peels can be an effective means of correcting discoloration, although it may require more than one visit. It is primarily used to make the mole less obvious.
Laser treatments lighten flat moles by targeting melanocyte cells and addressing discoloration in the skin. Pigmentary lasers are absorbed by melanin-producing cells, which are destroyed by the heat. Laser treatment works best for those with light skin and dark moles. It may require several visits before the mole is completely removed. Similar to chemical peels, it is primarily used to make the mole less obvious.
Small, non-cancerous moles can be removed via cauterization. First, a local anesthetic is applied to the area to eliminate pain. Then, the surgeon shaves the mole off the surface of the skin, using a small device to burn away the last layers and prevent the mole from growing back.
Cryotherapy is similar to cauterization, but uses cold versus heat to remove the mole. Moles are frozen with liquid nitrogen, which causes the cells to die. Within 1-6 weeks of the office visit, the mole falls off on its own. This is primarily used on flat “sun spots”.
Excision is surgical removal of the mole. This requires stitches and trades the mole for a linear scar. This is primarily use for raised moles to ensure they do not come back.
Shave removal is a procedure where the mole is “scooped out” flush with the skin. It leaves a small roundish scar. It is primarily used for thin or superficial looking moles. It does leave the potential of the mole recurring.
Recovering from Mole Removal
Depending on the method of mole removal used, your doctor may place a few stitches at the removal site, or cover it with a small bandage. You’ll be given aftercare instructions to reduce the visibility of scarring and ensure proper healing.
While there may be some mild tenderness in the area during the first week, patients are typically able to return to daily activity right away.
How long it takes you to fully heal depends on your general health and age (younger people heal more quickly), and the size of the mole you had removed.
Moles can regrow if some cells remain after treatment, but in general, mole removal is considered permanent when done by a skilled and experienced doctor.
Risks And Side Effects of Mole Removal
Mole removal is a relatively safe procedure, regardless of the method used. Among the risks are infection, excessive bleeding, and unexpected scarring. Those with dark skin have an increased risk of developing permanent pigmentary changes or raised scars after mole removal.
Tips to Minimize Scarring
Surgically removing a mole will result in a small scar. For most people, this scar will fade over time to the point where it becomes completely unnoticeable. To minimize scarring, consider the following:
- Follow your doctor’s post-treatment advice as closely as possible
- Avoid sun exposure while you’re healing to reduce risk of permanently darkened scar tissue
- Keep the incision site clean and well moisturized while you’re healing
- Allow scabs to form and fall off on their own, with no interference, picking or pulling
- Once stitches are removed and scabs are gone, gently massage the site twice daily
In general, non-cancerous mole removal is a safe and quick in-office procedure. For most people, the resulting self-confidence is well worth the minimal risk.