There are various types of moles, with a number of them being more common than others. The vast majority of moles are completely harmless, but you do need to be aware of the potential dangers of moles, which can be an indicator of skin cancer. There is a so called “ABCDE” method of looking at moles for signs of problems. A stands for asymmetry. B stands for border irregularity. C stands for change of color. D stands for diameter and E stands for enlarged or elevated (raised). If you notice any of the ABCDE symptoms, make sure you make an appointment with your physician to have them checked out.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of skin moles.
Recognizing a Cancerous Mole
You will probably have heard the horror stories of moles turning out to be cancerous and it is certainly true that the ABCDE changes in moles are often indicative of problems. Everybody tends to have moles, but it isn’t until they start behaving strangely that you should be concerned. If a mole changes in shape, for instance, or suddenly grows much larger, that is something to watch out for. Do not be overly concerned about moles becoming smaller; this happens with age, or new moles appearing all of the sudden. Another big warning sign is if a mole suddenly starts bleeding, without having been caught on clothing or anything else. Painful moles or moles with a red ring around them due to skin irritation should also be carefully checked.
Remember that the vast majority of time, your moles will be benign and that it is a case of being careful, rather than being paranoid.
Junctional Melanocytic Nevi
This is a round, flat and brown mole. When we speak of moles, we generally refer to these ones. They are made up of cells that produce melanin. Melanin is what gives our skin our color. When the melanocytes cluster together, they form a nevi. Hence, a mole is basically a benign (harmless) cluster of pigmented skin cells. Congenital melanocytic nevi are present at birth. The acquired ones appear later in life. The majority of people have acquired moles and only very few congenital moles. Congenital moles are often bigger and more prominent. Some disappear in old age.
Dermal Melanocytic Nevi
Usually, these moles are raised, paler in color and often hairy. There is a bigger chance of these moles becoming cancerous, although the vast majority continues to be benign. Essentially, these are just like the junctional nevi, but because they are raised, there is a higher chance of the cluster becoming problematic.
Compound Melanocytic Nevi
More often than not, these are moles that are raised above the skin. They can be hairy and are often light brown in color. Again, these are very common moles and most people will have a few of them. These moles are often larger in diameter than other moles and they do need to be checked out, as they may increase the chance of melanoma (skin cancer) being present.
Keep the ABCDE in mind and have a physician look at the moles if you have any concerns.
Rare Types of Moles
There are also very rare types of moles. The first type is the halo nevi. This is a mole that is surrounded by a ring of skin that has lost is color, usually white in appearance. Then, there is the atypical or dyplastic nevi (or Clark nevi), which looks very unusual. It is often larger than a common mole and can come in all sorts of colors. Some are flat and others are bumpy. Lastly, there are the blue nevi, which are literally dark blue moles.
Other Types of Blemishes
Not all skin blemishes are moles. There are seborrhoeic keratoses, which look like a raised wart. These can be all sorts of colors, although most usually black, skin colored, grey-brown or a dirty yellow. Usually, these appear on the stomach or chest and are most often seen in the elderly. Freckles are not moles either. They are small, flat marks generally found on the face or on other parts of the body that have high sun exposure. These are caused by high levels of melanin, which is the pigment that colors our skin. Lastly, there are solar lentigines, or sun spots, which are brown marks found mainly on the arms and face. People who spend a lot of time in the sun tend to develop these as they age.