Moles (pigmented nevi) are normal growths in the skin. Most are either brown and flat or minimally elevated, but some can be more raised, skin-colored, pink, grey, or even blue.
Dr. Naomi Brooks frequently works with patients to diagnose, treat, and remove various kinds of moles at her Boise-based practice.
Both normal and abnormal moles are growths in the skin that occur due to the pigment-producing cells (known as melanocytes) in the skin.
Family genes and sun exposure play a role in the type and number of moles that develop in each person. Some, known as congenital nevi, are present at birth.
Moles generally develop during childhood and into young adulthood, and tend to increase in number during the first 20 years of life.
A melanoma is a skin cancer growth of melanocytes that can develop anywhere on the skin. It can appear as a new mole, or as an existing one that is changing.
Melanomas are most common in adults. While they can also occur occasionally in teens, melanomas are rarer in children. These can spread internally and become potentially deadly if not caught early. Risk factors include:
It is important to perform self skin exams to familiarize yourself with the normal moles on your body and recognize early when a new one appears, or an existing one changes (in which case, a dermatologist should be consulted). Changes can include symptoms such as growth, pain, itching, or bleeding.
Dermatologists can perform annual full body skin exams to check your skin and educate you on monitoring and preventative measures.
Exams should be more frequent if you have risk factors. Some moles may have an atypical appearance, and will need to be monitored more frequently.
The symptoms to check for can be remembered as ABCDE.
During a skin examination at Boise Dermatology, Dr. Brooks may perform a biopsy.
A biopsy is a simple procedure performed in-office. The mole in question is usually completely removed during a biopsy, and is sent to a laboratory to be observed by a pathologist under a microscope. A small white scar may be left behind on the skin from a mole removal.
Some moles may require a minor additional procedure such as a simple excision, if biopsy does not completely remove them, or they have atypical cells.
Mole removal may be performed for cosmetic purposes, or if they are irritated by clothing or shaving. Insurance does not typically cover cosmetic removal.
Never use a tanning bed. While some people may believe a "base tan" protects the skin before vacationing to a sunny place, the additional UV exposure from the tanning bed will do more harm than good.
Self tanners are safe to use if you want a suntanned appearance to your skin, but note that self tanners typically do not contain any sun protection.
Wearable sun protection, such as broad-brimmed hats and sun protective (UPF 50) clothing and swimwear, is easy to use and will be protective through the day.
Sunscreens, whether stand-alone or contained in other makeup or skincare, should be at least SPF 30. They should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Daily SPF 30 should be worn daily even on cloudy days. Lips should be protected with SPF 30 lip balm.
Avoid prolonged outdoor activity in the highest sun exposure hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.