Everything You Need to Know About Mole Removal
Regardless of race, ethnicity, skin tone, or heritage, one thing most of us have in common are moles.
"Moles generally appear during childhood and adolescence, but they can be present at birth," dermatologist Dr. Christine Choi Kim, tells InStyle.
While some people may have more than others simply due to genetics, moles (especially new growths) are something that should be monitored over time. That said, even if you've had one lingering around for a while, but begin to notice a sudden a change in shape or size, it's best to see your dermatologist right away for it to be examined. However, you should be going for an annual skin check regardless.
During that visit, your doctor may have to remove the mole in-office to be biopsied in order to give you a proper diagnosis. So what exactly should you expect during that process? Well, we're here to fill you in.
Is There Any Way to Prevent Moles From Growing In the First Place?
When it comes to genetics, no. However, moles can also develop through sun exposure as well.
"The best way to prevent moles from growing in the first place is by taking measures to protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation," explains Dr. Choi Kim. The MD suggests avoiding being outdoors during peak sun intensity hours, which falls between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as using SPF 30 or higher daily, and avoiding tanning beds.
Do All Moles Need to Be Checked?
Dr. Alexis Stephens, dermatologist at Parkland Dermatology, stresses the importance of getting annual mole checks. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that your doctor will need to remove or closely examine every mole on your body.
"Almost every adult has moles, and this is normal. Most people have between 10 to 40 moles," Dr. Choi Kim assures us. "In your lifetime, some of the moles you develop may darken or lighten and grow gradually over years."
That said, if you are someone with over 50 moles on your body, it's important to keep in mind that you are at higher risk for developing melanoma. But if caught early, the disease is highly treatable.
"In adults, new moles or changes in existing moles should be checked regularly, both at home with self-exams and also with an annual total body skin exam by a board-certified dermatologist," Dr. Choi Kim adds. "Dermatologists spend years training their eyes to examine moles and may use tools like a dermatoscope to better evaluate features of moles."
How Do Doctors Determine When a Mole Needs to Be Removed?
By following the alphabet — literally.
"If a mole is showing one of the signs of the ABCDEs, it is important to have it evaluated for removal," says Dr. Stephens. "A is for asymmetry, B is for Border is changing or raised, C is for change in color, D is for diameter is bigger than a pencil eraser, and E is for evolving or changing."
Dr. Choi Kim adds that she also looks for the "ugly duckling sign" when examining the skin for suspicious moles.
"Does one mole obviously stand out from the others?" she questions when doing check-ups. "Also, if a patient admits that a mole is new or is changing rapidly, or is bleeding, itching, or painful I will recommend biopsying it."
Uh, I Accidentally Scratched My Mole Off Myself. Should I See a Doctor?
The long and short answer is yes.
"It is important to have the areas evaluated by a dermatologist if accidentally traumatized," recommends Dr. Stephens.
However, in the interim, there are some at-home care steps to follow.
"I would immediately clean it with gentle soap and water, apply a healing ointment, and cover it with a bandage for several days until it forms a scab and heals," says Dr. Choi Kim.
What Happens During the In-Office Mole Removal Process?
Dr. Stephens explains that first your doctor will administer lidocaine to numb the area before the skin is cut. Then the MD will decided whether to do a shave biopsy, a punch biopsy, or a surgical excision.
"You may or may not receive stitches depending on the type of removal performed," says Dr. Choi Kim. "In all cases, the mole will be sent to a pathologist to examine it under a microscope and to check for precancerous or cancerous cells," she continues. "Based on the results, you may need to return to the office for a second appointment to have the mole completely removed and treated."
Dr. Stephens adds that you can either see a dermatologist or plastic surgeon for the removal process, but the mole should always be examined by a dermatologist prior.
What Is the Healing Process Like Post-Mole Removal?
Dr. Stephens advises that healing can take anywhere from one to two weeks, however this can differ depending on the type of removal procedure you had done.
"A shave biopsy wound typically takes several days to weeks to heal, depending on the size and location of the mole that was removed," Dr. Choi Kim explains. "After a shave biopsy, a scab will form. Do not pick it off early. Once it does fall off, the skin underneath will be pink and smooth. If your mole is removed with stitches, your dermatologist will have you return to the office to have them removed in one to two weeks depending on the location on the body."
It's also important to note that regardless of the removal process your doctor chooses, scarring is likely to occur. However, there are ways to minimize the appearance.
"Silicone gel or bandages can help with healing and preventing scarring," says Dr. Stephens.
Dr. Choi Kim adds that proper sun protection is also key to avoid darkening of the area. "If you develop an itchy, painful or raised scar called a keloid, see your dermatologist for treatment options such as cortisone injections and lasers," she adds.
Can a Mole That's Been Previously Been Removed Grow Back?
Ah, moles. They can truly be the gift that keeps on giving. So in other words, yes, they can definitely grow back. And if that's the case for you, then it's time to make another appointment with your dermatologist.
"Moles can grow back after shave biopsies, punch biopsies, and even surgical excisions if there are nests of pigmented cells left at the borders," Dr. Choi Kim explains. "If a mole grows back, your dermatologist will look at the recurrent mole on your skin and review the original pathology results to determine whether it is medically necessary to remove again."