What are Moles?
Moles are a very common form of skin growth that occur in a huge percentage of the populace. As many as one in a hundred infants are born with moles from the start of their very lives. There are a number of different kinds of moles, but all of them are fairly similar in nature: they are benign growths of the skin, by definition raised, frequently discolored. What varies most strongly is their origin and what ultimately becomes of them.
Moles are a condition of valid concern to many individuals and their physicians. While the vast majority of all moles are benign, some of them do indicate underlying malignancy. However, this is not to say they are ever any cause for panic.
There are three primary kinds of moles: flat moles, raised moles, and skin tags. Flat moles are little more than spots that manifest on the surface of the skin. Raised moles are more pronounced and rounded, and are what are commonly thought of as moles. Skin tags are benign tumors, and are discussed [elsewhere] on this site. Flat moles and raised moles are both possessed of high concentrations of melanin. Melanin is the chemical that gives skin its pigmentation, and for this reason, moles are usually discolored, frequently appearing slightly darker from the skin around them, or otherwise brown.
Moles frequently grow tufts of hair, even in areas where hair is not otherwise common. This is simply a factor of their structure. They have a tendency toward a higher number of follicles and roots, and the hair on moles is frequently viewed as more of a problem than the mole itself. Indeed, the hair on moles is culturally associated with uncleanliness and unsightliness, but the hair on moles is also significantly easier to get rid of than the moles themselves. Mole hair removal is much easier than mole removal by all accounts, and can be done at home with a bit of maintenance.
Indeed, while many view moles as a nuisance, this is not a universal perception by any stretch. Moles are frequently considered indicators of beauty in a number of cultures, dependent primarily on their location. Moles on the face are oftentimes called ‘beauty marks’. This naming tends to pass from parent to child as an assurance that there is nothing wrong with having moles, which is something many children are sensitive about when moles form. Aside from this, however, they are thought on a more objective level to modify the perception of one’s face, emphasizing particular features. A number of cultures have cultural memes surrounding the appearance and location of moles on the body, particularly the face. Moles being on the left or right side of the mouth, alternately, have some significance in particular, as do moles under the eye in the path of a teardrop. Many individuals with the resources to get a mole removed choose not to do so for this reason in particular.
Who gets Moles?
Literally anyone can get moles. As many as one percent of all humans born every day have at least one mole on their body somewhere, and more and more individuals develop moles as time passes. The vast majority of all moles appear within the first two decades of life, but it is entirely possible for them to continue appearing later. As such, however, this biases the statistics toward young people. This is somewhat paradoxical. Moles are frequently thought of as a sign of maturity, or associated with aging, when in reality they appear quite early.
Moles are partially genetic in nature. This means that individuals with moles are more likely in general to pass moles on to their children. There are particular sorts of moles more strongly associated with genetic influence that will be dealt with on their own pages.
Moles tend to increase in number from birth through young adulthood. When an individual hits middle age, the number of moles on their body tends to begin to decline once again. This is somewhat paradoxical to many individuals who associate moles with aging, but the truth is that moles are tied more heavily to sun exposure. Older individuals exposed to excessive ultraviolet radiation are more likely to have attention called to any resulting moles because they are more likely to suffer some malignancy as a result of them, and therein lies the bias toward their perception as more common.
What causes Moles?
Moles of all sorts fall into two primary categories, which are in turn decided by their ultimate origin: acquired moles, and congenital moles. Congenital moles are present from birth. They are considered a minor malformation, or defect. Acquired moles are developed sometime after birth, generally as a result of environmental influences. These two categories express their original cause and frequently say a lot about their likely result.
Congenital moles are caused by genetic factors. They are passed on from parent to child, and manifest at birth. Roughly one in one hundred individuals are born with congenital moles, making them a fairly common condition. Congenital moles need no cause other than the preexistence of the relevant genes to make themselves known. Congenital moles tend to persist after birth.
Acquired moles are caused by environmental factors of various sorts. The primary environmental factor associated with acquired moles is sunlight. Sunlight contains a number of frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, including visible light and ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation can be very damaging to the skin, resulting in premature aging, skin anomalies, cellular mutation, and everything that these can entail. Among the possible anomalies that ultraviolet radiation can cause are moles.
Paradoxically, congenital moles are more strongly linked with melanoma and skin cancer than acquired moles. Acquired moles are not as likely as congenital moles to signify a malignancy as congenital moles are.
What do Moles cause?
Moles, in and of themselves, do not have any side effects or symptoms that are not their own. Their very existence does cause some effect, of course. Moles may manifest in various ways, and their extraneous and neoplasmic nature mean that moles themselves qualify as symptomatic.
Moles come in two primary varieties, which holds some bearing over their ultimate presentation. The first are congenital moles, which are the result of a genetic abnormality and are present from birth. Roughly one in a hundred individuals have these. The other are acquired moles. These stem from environmental factors, and are most frequently developed during the first twenty years of life.
Both of these types of moles come in several more varieties: flat moles, round moles, and skin tags. Skin tags are an effectively separate phenomenon that are covered accordingly here.
Flat moles are simple discs that form on the skin. Flat moles may be very slightly raised, but are generally flush with the skin. They are always discolored to some degree, however, as they almost universally hold large concentrations of melanin, the chemical that gives skin its pigmentation.
What does Mole treatment look like?
Treatment for moles is primarily centered around mole removal and mole prevention. As always, prevention comes first, but unlike many skin ailments, it can be very difficult to prevent moles. There are some conditions that can be very easily managed from the outside, and a checklist can be followed—follow some steps, avoid some specifics. Unfortunately, this cannot be done for moles.
There are two primary origins for moles: congenital moles, which exist from birth, and acquired moles, which are brought about later in life by environmental influences. Generally, the most common environmental influence that contributes to moles is sunlight. However, it does not take extensive sun exposure to bring moles about. Unlike some sun-related skin conditions, it does not take nearly as much sun exposure for moles to come about, and they can frequently be brought about by the standard ‘dosage’ of sunlight required to give the body its proper Vitamin D.
The recommended avoidance procedure for moles, therefore, is to avoid overexposure to sunlight. This is primarily a matter of covering oneself with long pants, long sleeves, and possibly a wide-brimmed hat: some sun exposure is necessary for good health, but sun extended sun exposure makes moles all the more likely. Keeping skin for the most part covered and not allowing it to be directly exposed and seared by the rays of the sun is an excellent way to avoid many kinds of problems, not just moles, making this fairly good practice anyway.
It should be noted, however, that sunblock may be touted as a solution to avoid moles and other damage from the sun when this is not, in fact, particularly true. Most sunblocks filter out a few frequencies of radiation from the sun, but they rarely catch the most important UV rays that are responsible for more-than-superficial skin damage. There are broad-spectrum sunblocks that are available, but these are not as widely marketed and are frequently much more expensive. SPF grade plays regrettably little role outside managing which sunblock is appropriate for purely cosmetic reasons, and to that end one should take care and not rely on a sunblock of any sort to protect their skin thoroughly from moles. The most effective means to protect the skin from the sunlight regarding the development of moles or anything else is to simply cover it with sun-blocking cloth.
There are no options presently available for the avoidance of congenital moles. These exist from birth, and thus there is nothing to be done for them as of yet. However, there is a much stronger link between congenital moles and acquired moles as related to skin cancers. To this end, it is likely that the future holds some treatment related to the prevention of skin cancer that may also prevent congenital moles before they can occur—but this is presently nothing more than a hypothetical ideal, and there is no such product on the market as of yet.
For many, mole prevention simply isn’t enough. Moles are not like contagious ailments, or many other skin conditions; there is no way to ‘be careful’ to avoid moles extensively. Most of them are all but pre-destined to manifest on the skin in the first twenty years of life, after which they’ve a tendency to fade away again. Prevention is not the most reliable means to keep moles out of one’s skin.
For those who wish to be done with moles entirely, the only option on the table is mole removal. There are many different procedures available for mole removal. However, before mole removal can take place, there needs to be a proper analysis of the mole at hand. There are some procedures that are unsuitable for various types of moles. Before any mole removal can occur, a full diagnosis must be made.
Lesions that are suspected of being melanoma must be examined first. This is done through a procedure known as a skin biopsy; a sample of the skin is taken and put under microscopic examination. There are several methods of biopsy which are appropriate for different sizes of mole or potential melanoma.
When a mole has been confirmed not to be a form of melanoma, there are several individual options for removal. These options apply to some extent even when the mole signifies a melanoma, but dealing with and removing the melanoma obviously takes first priority over the cosmetic effects.
The first method of mole removal is simply excision. An excisional biopsy is a relatively minor operation where the mass of the mole itself is simply cut away from the rest of the skin. Excisional biposies are suitable for moles that are somewhat deeper than others. Excisional biopsy is a one-time operation, and generally does not leave very much in the way of a scar when treated properly and managed post-operation appropriately.
The second method of mole removal is called scraping. Scraping is almost exactly what it sounds like. Under very careful hands, layer after layer of the skin comprising the mole is removed. This does away with any appearance of the mole, leaving in its place a red or pink path of irritated skin that tends to clear itself up after no more than a fortnight, or a period of two weeks.
Both of these methods may be relatively insufficient in the instance of a true melanoma. The melanoma is still capable of spreading even after the mole indicating it is removed, as the malignancy is not necessarily completely scored away. If this is the case, further operations will be necessary to prevent further recurrence and, worse, further spread of the malignancy through the body.
There are other options that have become available for mole removal, as well. Some of them are cheaper and easier to perform than excisional biopsy or scraping, the former of which is an invasive procedure, and the latter of which takes a very steady hand and significant local anesthetic. The first of these alternatives is laser removal. Laser removal works by simply burning away and cauterizing the unwanted tissue. There are two kinds of lasers that fall into the employ of dermatologists and physicians to this end: pulse-dye lasers, and carbon lasers. The former are much more precise and use a much lower frequency of light that interacts only with areas that have been treated by a special die. This prevents unnecessary damage. Carbon lasers are much harsher and may cause damage to the surrounding skin. Laser is, however, a more viable option for much smaller moles, as some of them are difficult to operate on by hand, which is what is required of excisional biopsy and scraping. Lasers, being lasers, are much more precise, tightly controlled beams of light that are suitable for such delicate work.
Electrocauterization is another option, although this has fallen into relative disuse. Electrocauterization is not unlike the carbon laser in that it burns using the body’s supply of water in the mole. However, it also directly cauterizes the area, which can prevent the recurrence of some moles. Electrocauterization is also suitable for relatively small moles, and in most cases carries a lower risk of scarring than laser therapy. The primary disadvantage to this method is that it may take more than one treatment for the mole to be completely destroyed.
In recent years, a hybrid method has fallen into vogue. This method uses cryosurgery to reduce the mass of a raised mole first, and then scraping is performed on the resulting reduced mole. The ultimate result is that the entirety of the mole is easily removed in a single operation, with the bulk of the work done by the cryosurgical intervention. However, this is insufficient for the full mole, as there will still be discolored, melanin-rich skin beneath the bulk. Scraping then eliminates the rest of it. This makes for a much shorter operation than if the mole had simply been scraped the whole way through, and is less invasive than an excisional biopsy.
There are naturally risks accompanying any mole removal surgery, just as there are risks attached to all surgeries that may be performed. For moles, the primary risk is that of scarring. All mole removal surgeries, no matter how well-performed, carry a risk of scarring, as all of them ultimately must cause some damage to the skin. Whether the moles are congenital and present from birth, or neoplasmic formations that arise later, they are still a part of the body and they are still rooted in the skin, and this means that any treatment done on them and any treatment that deals damage to them can deal damage to the surrounding skin. The other primary risk is associated with the anesthetic used. While mole removal surgery should not require a general anesthetic that will result in the total unconsciousness of the patient, even local anesthetics carry potential foibles, including nerve damage in some individuals. Post-operative infections are possible, even with the relatively minor nature of moles, and this is compounded if there is any error on the patient’s part in caring for them after surgery. Beyond this, there is merely the potential discomfort of minor pain or scabbing, but these can be easily managed or tolerated with or without painkillers, and never last more than a handful of weeks at the very most.
There are other options and fresh new treatments presented every day. While a number of individuals come to associate their moles freely with their own faces and names, there are always going to be those that simply cannot abide the presence of moles on their skin, and they will always desire to have the option to simply remove them. For them, regardless of the risk, mole removal surgery will always be an option.
It should be clarified again, however, that these are all nothing more than cosmetic procedures. None of the methods discussed are suitable for the curing of melanoma. Malignant tumors of the skin must be dealt with by medical professionals qualified for such an affliction, and entirely different rules apply for dealing with malignancies than apply for dealing with minor cosmetic discomforts.
There are several mole-related treatments available that do not cover mole prevention or mole treatment. These are generally employed by individuals who are not completely intolerant of their moles, but wish to best deal with them. The first, most relevant method is not so much a treatment, but an option, and that is makeup. Simple cosmetics can mask many moles, and reduce their visibility on a temporary basis. This is especially true for flat moles. It is relatively untrue for skin tags, which are a different kind of mole, but skin tags are generally small enough to render cosmetics of any sort ineffective if individuals are close enough to witness the skin tag at all, covered or not. The other methods of mole treatment center around mole hair removal. In addition to carrying high densities of melanin, moles frequently sprout many individual hairs. These hairs may vary in thickness, but are generally indistinguishable from facial hairs—this can be exceptionally frustrating for women, who will find that thick, unignorably dark hairs are forming on their faces on their moles. These hairs can be easily plucked, however, or waxed or threaded, and those exceptionally desperate for an end to the hairs may seek laser treatment or electrolysis.
Laser hair removal for mole hairs is something of a misnomer. Laser hair treatments do very precise damage to the hair itself that causes the hairs to grow back in thinner than they were before. It is primarily effective on darker hair—the thicker and darker, the better. Its effectiveness declines the thinner and paler a hair gets, and diminishing returns are seen with subsequent laser treatment. The other option is electrolysis. Unlike laser hair removal, electrolysis simply removes the offending hair and kills its source with a burst of voltage suitable to destroy the root. Multiple treatments of either are usually required to be completely rid of hairs, but they are effectively permanent in most cases.
There are several mole removal treatments which are suitable for home use which are slowly growing in popularity. They vary widely in their composition, but all revolve around the cosmetic elimination of the mole. Among these are many different formulations of mole removal cream, which are gaining popularity in many parts of the world for their relative affordability as compared to mole removal surgery, with the added bonus of a much lower risk of scarring. Mole removal creams have become an excellent first step for those looking to eliminate their moles at the lowest possible cost.
What does Mole Removal cost?
Mole removal cost is very highly variable depending primarily upon what method of mole removal is used. Mole removal cost obviously becomes less of an issue when moles are indicative of melanoma, and the costs of treating melanoma will not be addressed here. Mole removal cost hinges entirely on the method of mole removal used.
The cost of mole removal surgery is difficult to ascertain, as prices vary regionally, by medical professional, and by insurance coverage. Some individuals may pay a full $90 for a doctor’s visit, while others have a co-pay as low as $10. Mole removal procedures then swing from as low as $60 to perform into the thousands, depending upon the severity of the mole and the number of repeat treatments required.
Treatment of moles with over-the-counter products is, when possible, reliably much more affordable. However, this does carry the downside of the extended period of time required to do away with moles using these methods. For most cases, however, those willing to be patient will find that a mole removal cream or other home-use product will suit them well enough if they cannot afford a cosmetic procedure.
How do I know if I have Moles?
Moles can be visually identified on the skin as dark spots. Said spots may be raised or flat, and their nature as moles is obvious. Skin tags are similarly obvious to the eye, but are a different kind of mole and covered elsewhere. Moles are generally very visible due to their high concentration of melanin, which is the chemical that gives skin its pigmentation.
However, there is a very different set of procedures to differentiate simple moles from melanoma, and other cancerous malignancies. While moles are plainly obvious to the eye, the malignant nature of some moles is not. This procedure is covered elsewhere.