Let’s start with some good news: Most moles are harmless.
That said, if you’ve gotten a new mole recently, you’re right to be concerned. It could be a sign of melanoma or another form of skin cancer.
So, which is it, be afraid or don’t be? I’m going to provide some guidelines that should help with that. And since many people opt to have their moles removed either way, I’ll also offer some insight into that process, along with a rundown of the most effective ways for healing your skin following a mole removal.
When to be concerned about your mole
For starters, book an annual skin screening (which will be covered by your insurance) with a board-certified dermatologist, if you aren’t doing it already. It’s the best way to catch any potential threats early on. And that’s critical because skin cancers are almost always curable when they’re treated in their infancy. Including melanoma.
It’s also a good idea to be doing self-skin checks in between appointments. Try to do so on a monthly basis at least. The more frequently you do it, the easier it should be to recognize new or changing growths.
Most become concerned about a new mole when it elevates above the skin. But elevation in and of itself isn’t necessarily a worrying symptom. Raised moles are generally caused by a harmless bunch of cells pushing upward from the dermis, the second layer of skin.
Another class of moles known as congenital nevi, which are moles present at birth or that appear soon after, also tend to trigger anxiety. In most cases, though, they’re nothing to be worried about.
When, then, should you be concerned about a mole? Examine it through the lens of the ABCDE rule, which stands for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolving. If you notice any of your moles growing, changing shape, showing more than one color, or bleeding easily, bring it to a dermatologist’s attention. They’ll use a polarized light and magnification to scan for patterns in the mole’s cells.
If they detect any abnormalities in the mole’s size, shape, or pigment, they’ll do a biopsy. From here, there are three general outcomes: your mole will be declared benign (which is often the case), cancerous, or atypical. Cancerous moles will require further medical attention. Atypical moles will usually be excised, along with a small area of skin around it, just to be safe.
Finally, if it seems like you’re growing more moles as you get older, there may be something to that. The development of new moles generally peaks in our twenties, although we develop lots of benign growths starting at age 30.
What to expect when you have a mole removed
Whether you’re having a mole removed for medical or cosmetic reasons, there are two main factors that affect healing time: how the mole is removed and where on your body the mole is located.
Moles are most commonly removed by either punching or shaving. Both techniques are done with a local anesthesia, making them relatively fast and painless. With shaving, the dermatologist removes a superficial sample of skin with a blade. The skin will heal on its own, so there’s no need for stitches. Punching uses a round tool to remove a small plug of skin. The resulting puncture is then stitched up.
Lasers are also occasionally used to remove moles that don’t need to be biopsied.
The further down the body, the longer the healing time. The face typically heals within a week. The lower leg heals the slowest and could require two to three weeks to fully heal.
To help facilitate your recovery, avoid the sun (healing skin soaks up UV rays and will become hyperpigmented) and regularly apply a protective, emollient balm to the wound until it’s healed completely. A dry scab will slow the healing process.