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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

A mole is usually a mid- or dark-brown flat mark (a junctional nevus), or a dome-shaped brown or flesh-colored bump (a dermal nevus). It should be neither itchy nor bothersome.

You may have numerous moles, and they may run in your family. They may have been present for as long as you can remember, or since birth, although new moles can appear throughout childhood and even into your 20s, especially after recent sun exposure.

People with certain skin types, such as those with pale skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair, and who are likely to easily sunburn, are likely to be more at risk of concerning changes to moles.

Is my mole concerning?

You can assess whether a mole is concerning or not by applying the ABCDE rule:

Asymmetry – are the two halves of the mole different shapes?

Border – are the edges jagged or blurred?

Color – is more than one color present, such as different shades of brown, pink, or any black?

Diameter – using a clear ruler, does the mole measure 1/4 inch or more in width?

Expert – if it's yes to any of the above, see your doctor or a dermatologist.

If you have lots of moles and it is difficult to keep track of any changes, take a photo every year in natural light and compare it with the previous year. What are you looking for? One that stands out, or, as dermatologists describe it, "the ugly duckling."

Everyone should be wearing a high SPF sunscreen and avoiding strong sun in the middle of the day, to reduce the risk of skin cancer from forming.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

People worry about mistaking moles for melanoma - a form of skin cancer. You can reduce your risk of melanoma by keeping UV exposure to a minimum, either from the sun or tanning beds.

Melanoma develops after exposure to the sun. While anyone can get it, certain factors can increase your risk. This includes if you have pale skin and freckles, or skin that burns easily and rarely tans, or if you or a close family member (parent, child, or sibling - what we call 'first degree relatives') has had melanoma. You are also at risk if you have spent significant amounts of time in the sun - either working outdoors, living in hot climates, or sunbathing extensively - exposure to UV radiation from the sun also includes extensive use of tanning beds.

It is advisable for everyone to wear strong sun protection and reapply it regularly. Look for an SPF of 30 or higher and a star rating of 4 or 5, and reapply every 2 hours when outdoors. Also, reapply after showering or swimming.

A high factor (SPF 30 or above) sunscreen with a 5-star UVA rating is a good place to start to ensure you are safe out in the sun. Avoiding sunburn is key to protecting your skin later in life. Otherwise, if you are worried about melanoma, it would be best to speak to your doctor.

Am I fit for work?

Moles are no reason to be off work unless you have concerns and need to prioritize a doctor's appointment.

When should I see my doctor?

A reason for concern is if any of your moles change - in size, color, or shape, or if they are new. You should book an urgent appointment with your doctor if your mole has any concerning signs. If you are unsure of the diagnosis, but nothing has changed recently, book a routine appointment.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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