Most people have moles. They’re the teeny coloured dots that can be found anywhere on your body. While some people have loads of moles, others have just a few – there is no “normal” amount. Your moles can be present at birth, but they can also develop during your childhood and adulthood.
To get nerdie, a mole is the result of a mutation within our melanocytes, which causes the cells to grow in a cluster instead of being spread out evenly across our skin. To explain further, melanocytes are melanin (read: pigment) producing skin cells, which is why our moles can differ in colour so much and can even have no colour. It’s completely normal for your moles to match your skin tone, or be pink, blue, dark brown or black – surprising right?
Now, most moles are harmless and completely benign, and so long as you are cleansing and using SPF daily, your skin will remain healthy. However, it is possible for moles to become malignant if the melanocytes continue to mutate. Moles can develop into pre-cancerous lesions or melanoma if the melanocytes continue to multiply further, and exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can be a contributing factor.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in melanocytes. The most common sign of melanoma is a new mole or a change in an existing mole. However not all melanoma begins in moles, which is why it’s important to keep an eye out for changing skin lesions, too.
Anyone can get melanoma, but there are a few risk factors. These include being light skinned, having naturally red or blonde hair, freckly skin or lots of moles. It’s harder to detect melanoma in those with dark or black skin because it tends to manifest under their fingernails and toenails, or on areas that aren’t exposed to the skin, such as their palms or soles of their feet.
When you’re checking for abnormalities, I would look for any “ugly duckling” moles – skin lesions that don’t look like the others. The “ABCDE” method is a super easy way that you can check if there’s anything out of the ordinary about your moles. That means checking if your mole is asymmetrical, has an uneven border, changed colour or has more than one colour, has a large diameter, if it’s elevated, firm or growing.
I tend to check my moles once a month and would advise that you book an appointment with your GP if you notice any of the changes in your moles listed above. If you do notice any markers, please try not to worry – most moles are completely normal, but it’s a smart move to get them assessed by a medical professional annually.
The best way to protect your moles and prevent skin damage is to generously apply a daily broad-spectrum high SPF every single day, no matter what time of year. I always take the guidance of the Irish Cancer Society who recommends that you reapply your SPF every 2 hours when in direct sunlight. I would also say to stay in the shade between 10am to 2pm as that’s when the sun is strongest during sunny months.