Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link



The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
Get the full details
Topic Resources

What are moles?

Moles are small skin growths that can be anywhere on your body. They are usually dark in color and are round or oval. Almost everyone has some moles.

  • Moles often first appear when you are a child or teenager

  • They don't go away on their own

  • Moles don't hurt or itch

  • They don’t usually need treatment, unless they bother you

  • Getting bigger

  • Changing shape

  • Changing color

See a doctor if you have a mole that has changed.

What do moles look like?

Moles commonly:

  • Vary in size, from small dots to more than one inch (about 2 1/2 centimeters) across

  • Are symmetric, meaning if you were to draw a line down the middle, both halves would look the same

  • Are round or oval

  • May be flat or raised, smooth or rough, or have hairs growing from them

  • May be red at first but often turn tan, yellow, brown, blue-gray, or nearly black

Moles that are unusual ("atypical moles"):

  • Tend to be more than one color, especially brown and tan with a pink background

  • Have irregular shapes and edges

  • Are often bigger than other moles on your body

  • Usually show up on skin that gets sun but can be anywhere on your body

Atypical moles tend to run in families. People with even a few atypical moles are more likely to get melanoma.

When should I see a doctor about a mole?

Have a doctor look at a mole if it:

  • Becomes painful or itchy

  • Bleeds

  • Changes shape, grows, or is wider than a pencil eraser

  • Changes color, has unusual colors, or is darker or differently colored than your other moles

  • Isn't the same shape on both sides

  • Has borders that aren’t round or oval

  • Appears when you're age 30 or older

How do doctors treat moles?

Most moles are harmless and don’t need treatment. Your doctor can remove moles that are uncomfortable.

Your doctor will:

  • Look closely at your moles

  • Check if an atypical mole is cancerous by looking at a piece of it under a microscope (biopsy)

  • Do surgery to remove the mole (if it is cancerous) and the skin around the mole

How can I prevent melanoma?

You are at higher risk for melanoma if you have:

  • Atypical moles

  • More than 50 moles

  • A family member who has had melanoma

If you're at higher risk for melanoma, doctors may want you to:

  • Have your skin checked at least once a year by a dermatologist (a skin doctor)

  • Have any atypical moles that have changed removed right away

Because skin damage caused by the sun increases your risk for melanoma (as well as other skin cancers), make sure you:

  • Avoid sunburn and tanning

  • Avoid being out in the sun between 10:00 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon

  • Apply sunscreen to skin exposed to the sun

  • Wear a hat and clothing that protects you from the sun

quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!