What's This Thing on My Face? This Edition: Moles

wtomf_mole

Freaking out about a bump, blemish or rash? Alongside our expert advisor Dr. Anthony Rossi, dermatologist, assistant professor at Cornell’s Weill Medical College and source of all our mole knowledge, we’re here to help you figure out why it’s there (and more importantly, how to make it disappear).

What the heck is this big, brown lump on my face?

That, friend, would be a mole.

Well, duh. But what is it?

Let’s take it from the top: We each have a bunch of pigment-producing cells in our skin called melanocytes, which essentially decide the color of our skin. When a bunch of those cells collect in one area, they sort of cluster together to form a mole.

From there, there are three different types of moles. The first sits on the top layer of the skin and is what dermatologists call an epidermal nevi (nevi being the medical term for mole). The second sits just below the skin and is called a dermal nevi. Lastly, the third is both deeply embedded in the skin and protrudes above it—that’s called a compound nevi.

That’s all very well, but why is it on my face?

Many people are simply born with moles. But if you’ve just noticed one recently, it might be the result of not wearing enough sunscreen—too much sun exposure is a quick way to sprout a mole.

Will it kill me?

No! Well, maybe. Probably not, though. Most moles are an eyesore at worst. That said, it’s important to keep an eye on your moles to make sure they don’t become atypical—especially if you have a family history of skin cancer—because that can be an early sign of melanoma.

If you don’t know how to tell whether a mole is dangerous or not, use the “ABCDE” rule:

A = Asymmetry: The mole isn’t perfectly symmetrical.

B = Border: The border of the mole is irregular or jagged.

C = Color: There are multiple colors—i.e., red, black and brown—within the mole.

D = Diameter: The diameter of the mole is larger than six millimeters, or the size of a pencil eraser.

E = Evolving: The mole is changing shape or size.

If any of those rules apply to your mole, get it checked out by a dermatologist right away.

So…how do I get rid of it?

We shouldn’t even have to say this, but if you want a mole removed, visit a board-certified dermatologist. Do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, attempt to remove it yourself. This really, really bears repeating, so: DO. NOT. REMOVE. IT. YOURSELF.

With that out of the way, the professional approach to removing moles depends on (a) where they’re located on the body; and (b) whether or not the patient cares how it looks afterwards. If it’s for medical purposes and the patient doesn’t mind a small scar, it’s simply taken out with a scalpel. If it really is on your face, though, a more cosmetic approach is taken, either by shaving it off, or using a small cookie cutter-like device to remove it. A stitch is then applied so it heals up nicely.

That sounds like something I could do at home by myse—

*SLAP* Now, what should you do?

Go see a dermatologist and stop being so silly.

Atta boy.