Everyone has moles -- some more and some less. They're a very common facial and skin condition. Most of us have between 10 and 40 moles, and those with light skin tend to have more. It's important to know your moles because one of the early signs of the skin cancer melanoma is a change to a mole. Melanoma can be dangerous, but is easy to treat if it's caught early.

Normal Moles

So what should a normal mole look like? Ideally, a mole should be a single color, which can be anything from black to light brown to colorless. It should be circular in shape, not irregular. It can be perfectly flat or slightly curved above the skin’s surface. And, most importantly, it should not change over time. (One exception to that rule is for children -- it's normal for a child's moles to suddenly appear and change color as he or she grows up.)

Atypical Moles

Not all moles follow the rules above. Unusual moles are also called dysplastic nevi. They are not necessarily signs of melanoma, but having a lot of unusual moles is a sign of vulnerability to skin cancer. These types of moles can be unusually large -- larger than a pencil eraser. They may also have mixed colors and irregular shapes. A tendency toward atypical moles can run in families -- this is known as familial atypical multiple mole-melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome.

Treatment of Moles

Mole removal is usually a simple cosmetic procedure that can be performed in your cosmetic plastic surgeon’s office. It can be done as a cosmetic treatment for moles that are badly positioned and/or unattractive, or if the doctor suspects a mole is showing signs of potential melanoma. The most common way to remove a mole is through surgical excision. This can be done by either shaving the mole down to the skin, or making a shallow cut around the mole and removing it. This is preferred in cases of possible melanoma, because the removed mole can be sent for a biopsy to see if there is any sign of cancerous cells present.

In cases where the mole is being removed for cosmetic reasons, a laser may be used to lighten the color of the mole. This may require multiple treatments, especially for very large and/or dark moles. However, this method doesn't work as well for moles that are raised above the skin surface -- in those cases, surgery may be the only option.

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