What are moles?

Moles are common spots on the skin, which usually look like large freckles. They can be flesh-coloured or brown/black in colour. Moles can appear at any age, or a person can be born with them.

They are also known as melanocytic or pigmented naevi.

What do moles look like?

  • Moles are usually round in shape with a highly defined border. Sometimes the skin around a mole loses its colour. In such cases, the mole appears to be surrounded by a white ring. This is known as a halo naevus and is harmless. It occurs most often in children and teenagers.
  • Moles can be flat or raised. They are usually flesh-coloured or brown/black in colour. While moles can increase in size over time, they should not change shape or colour. If you notice the shape or colour of a mole changing, visit your doctor immediately.

Where are moles found?

Moles can be found on any part of the body.

Are moles cancerous?

Not usually. Most moles are harmless. However some have a slight risk of becoming cancerous.

Moles which have an increased likelihood of becoming cancerous are called dysplastic naevi. They are usually larger in size than most moles, with irregular colouring. Their border may not be as well defined as a normal mole. If you have a mole which fits this description, seek medical advice.

Moles which are present at birth (congenital pigmented naevi) sometimes have an increased chance of becoming cancerous too.

However whether you are born with moles, or they develop over time, you should check them regularly for any changes in colour or shape. If you have moles in an awkward place which makes them difficult to check, get somebody else to do it for you. If you notice changes in any of your moles, or if your mole starts to bleed, visit a doctor immediately.

Also make sure to take adequate precaution in the sun, as over-exposure can result in skin cancer.

When checking your moles, remember the letters A, B, C, and D.

  • A is for asymmetrical. The mole should be round in shape, and it should not change shape at any time. Any irregularities should be checked by your doctor.
  • B is for border. If the border of the mole is broken in places or is irregular in any way, visit your doctor.
  • C is for colour. If your mole changes colour, or seems to be made up of a few different colours, have the mole checked by your doctor.
  • D is for diameter. If the mole is bigger then a pencil rubber (eraser), have it checked by a doctor.

Are freckles the same as moles?

No. Freckles are small tan or brown spots which develop on the skin after repeated exposure to sunlight. They are most commonly found in people with fair complexions, and tend to be darker and more numerous during the summer. They are not dangerous, but can be seen as a warning to people that they are vulnerable to sunburn.

When is the removal of moles required?

As most moles are harmless, they never need to be treated. However there are some cases in which removal may be necessary:

  • A malignant melanoma is a cancerous growth which occurs in the melanocytes (pigment cells) of the skin. Melanomas are most common in people with a fair complexion, who have been sunburned in the past and who have a large number of moles. Sometimes melanomas develop within a mole. Other times they develop on normal skin. When a melanoma grows on normal skin, it looks like a mole, however it usually has an irregular shape and colour, and it may start to bleed. If you notice any changes in your moles or if a new mole develops after the age of 20, have it examined by a doctor. If the mole is malignant or if there is a possibility of malignancy, the mole will be removed.
  • If the mole is in an awkward place where it is regularly irritated by something, for example, under a bra strap, it may be removed.

Is it normal to have a hairy mole?

Yes. Many people have hair growing out of their moles. While you should regularly check your moles for any changes in shape or colour, the growth of hair is nothing to worry about.

If the hair is unsightly, for example, if it is on a mole on the face, you may wish to have it removed. Many people in this position simply pluck the hair. If you have any queries or concerns, consult a doctor or dermatologist.

Back to top of page