Just about everyone has moles on their skin. In general, they’re nothing to worry about, although it is a good idea to monitor them if they grow or change, as this could be a sign that they pose a health risk. In determining whether any of your moles are anything other than harmless, it’s good to understand how and why moles appear on the body, and what steps should be taken to minimise the appearance of new ones.
Moles are influenced by two main factors, only one of which can we control. The first factor is genetics. The genes passed on to us from our parents play a significant role in moles that develop on the skin. The other major factor is exposure to the sun. Excessive sun exposure can lead to more moles, although the type of skin you have, determined by genetics, also comes into play here. Moles can appear in areas of the body that are exposed to the sun.
Moles appear when the skin cells multiply in a cluster, rather than being spread out evenly over the epidermis. These types of cells are known as melanocytes, and they produce the pigmentation that gives skin its colour. Being in the sun can cause moles to darken, or they may be darker than the skin around them naturally. Freckles are also darker than the skin around them, and medically they are known as ephelides. While moles can have a raised surface or be flush with the skin, freckles are flat. Freckles are the result of pigment in the skin known as melanin, which leads to a darker spot of colour. People with pale complexions are more prone to developing freckles, and the type of skin that freckles is also more likely to have moles.
Freckles and moles are often seen on the skin of people with red or blond hair, with blue or green eyes. Taking adequate measures to protect skin against the sun, such as wearing a hat, staying in the shade or wearing sunscreen, will all help to minimise sun damage to the skin and curb the proliferation of freckles and moles.
While managing an environmental factor such as sun exposure can limit the development of moles, sometimes the reasons for them are simply genetic. Even babies can have moles. Sometimes they are already on the skin when the baby is born, and sometimes they develop after birth. Even though people with pale skin are more liable to develop moles, they can occur on the skin of anyone, any race and any colour. Even animals can get moles, and they are frequently seen on dogs.
There are essentially three different varieties of mole. These are the symmetrical and regular type, the irregular type, and the ones that are malignant or cancerous. Occasionally, a normal mole can develop into a cancerous mole or melanoma. Sun exposure can influence the development of melanomas, and so any new moles that develop in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun need to be monitored. It’s a good idea for people who spend a lot of time outside to have a full body skin examination every year to check for the development of melanomas. Melanomas caught early are more treatable, and if undiagnosed, can kill.