Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Mole on woman's back.

Mole on woman's back.
beginning of content

Moles

3-minute read

What are moles?

Moles are small, dark marks that appear on the skin. They are usually round or oval in shape and are caused when the cells that produce pigment, called melanocytes, grow in groups.

Most people have about 50 moles. They can appear anywhere, including palms and soles, nails, genitals, scalp and eyes.

Moles are different to freckles. Freckles are flat, where moles tend to be raised.

There are different types of moles:

  • Benign naevus/mole: a normal mole. It is harmless.
  • Congenital naevus/mole: a mole that a child is born with, or that develops shortly after birth.
  • Blue naevus/mole: a blue mole, usually harmless.
  • Dysplastic mole, or atypical naevus/mole: usually larger than 5 mm, often with a smudgy, ill-defined border, and uneven colour, irregular shape and some pinkness. They rarely turn into melanoma but the risk of melanoma goes up the more dysplastic moles you have.
  • Cancerous mole: Most moles are harmless, but there is a very small risk they may develop into melanoma. People who have a large number of moles (more than 100) are at greater risk.

How are moles diagnosed?

Regular skin checks performed by your doctor are important, especially if you have a large number of moles or several dysplastic moles. Your doctor will most likely use a dermatoscope (for magnification) to determine if a mole has features that are suspicious for cancer. Photographs may also be used to compare lesions from one skin check to the next.

You should self-examine your skin at least every 3 to 4 months and tell your doctor if you notice any moles that are new, growing or changing.

Check your moles regularly and look out for the following:

  • changes to the size and shape
  • any changes to the colour — look out for moles that have several colours or shades
  • any bleeding, soreness, itching, weeping or inflammation
  • a crusty or flaky appearance developing
  • an outline that looks notched
  • new moles which look different or unusual

If you have a mole, avoid scratching or picking it — keeping children’s fingernails short and trimmed may help stop them scratching their moles.

If your mole is in a vulnerable area where it could be knocked or scraped against something, you should try to protect it.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How are moles removed?

Your doctor may decide to remove a role if it is larger than usual or it looks like it may be cancerous. You may also decide to have a mole removed if it is painful or you do not like the way it looks.

The doctor will give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area and then cut or shave the mole off with a surgical blade, or use a hollow tube with a sharp end (punch device) to remove the mole.

You may have stitches to the area and a dressing will be put on top.

After a mole is removed, you should take care to keep the wound area clean and use pain relief medication if needed. Check for redness, swelling, pain, discharge or a bad smell.

Can moles be prevented?

The number of moles is mainly caused by the genes you inherit. However, exposure to sunlight, especially in childhood and early teenage years, can lead to new moles developing.

Always make sure you avoid the sun and protect your skin by wearing tightly woven longer sleeved clothing, broad brimmed hats and sunglasses and applying sunscreens regularly.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Check for signs of skin cancer | Cancer Council

Is it a mole or is it skin cancer? Learn how to check yourself for skin cancers and recognise signs of melanoma and other types of skin cancer

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Looking for skin cancer: Identifying suspicious moles information | myVMC

How to examine your body for skin cancer symptoms including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Includes skin cancer pictures.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Skin Cancer (growth of abnormal skin cells) - Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It is the most common of all cancers and Australia has the highest incidence in the world.

Read more on Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons website

Moles: children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Moles look like small round spots of colour on your child’s skin. They’re common and mostly harmless. If you’re worried about your child’s moles, see a GP.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Moles

Moles are normal overgrowths of pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. They are not normally present at birth but appear in childhood and early teenage

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Skin Cancer – An Overview

Australia reports the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer are the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Australia

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

About skin cancer - SunSmart

Types of skin cancer including melanoma, nodular melanoma, basal cell carincoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Skin cancer – risks and early signs | National Centre for Farmer Health

Farming men and women and agricultural workers spend a lot of time working outdoors. Without appropriate protection they can be increasing their risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer can be a life-threatening condition and protecting skin from Ultraviolet (UV) radiation should be taken very seriously. Read more...

Read more on National Centre for Farmer Health website

Skin Cancer & Melanoma Treatment - Targeting Cancer

Learn more about skin cancer and the different treatment options available.

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Skin cancer: Overview | Cancer Council Victoria

Understand more about skin cancer including what it is, what types are there, how common it is, who is at risk and what causes it.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo