Moles are simply small coloured spots on the skin, and the majority are completely harmless. They are brown or black growths on the skin, sometimes raised, sometimes with hairs growing out of them.
It is important to keep an eye on your moles, as any changes may be indicative of melanoma. Check out our ABCDE Guide to Checking Moles for more information. If there is a possibility of a mole being cancerous, it will be removed by the NHS. However, if you would like a mole removed for aesthetic reasons, you will have to go to a private clinic.
We asked our Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Sharon Critchlow* and Registered Nurse, Jane Lewis, to give us an overview of moles and the safest ways to remove them.
What is a mole?
The word ‘mole’ is often used in a layman fashion to describe just about all skin lesions. In the correct usage, it refers to a melanocytic naevus, composed of melanocytes. These have the potential to turn into melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Ideally, unless very large or limited by location, any suspicious melanocytic lesion should be cut out in its entirety.
Moles are different from skin tags and therefore need to be diagnosed by a specialist doctor or a dermatologist. The reason for this is that a mole is more complicated than many other skin lesions such as skin tags.
What does the mole removal procedure involve?
There are many factors which determine the procedure that would be recommended. Some clearly benign lesions can be shaved, scraped (curetted), or burnt (hyfrecated). However, some lesions need to be sampled (biopsied) or cut out entirely with a margin of normal tissue around it (excised). Your doctor will advise on which procedure would be best suited if any at all. You are always welcome to seek a second opinion but cannot demand a particular type of procedure if it is not deemed to be in your best interest.
Firstly, we will clean and mark the area to be treated. You will be given an injection of a local anaesthetic similar to that used by the dentist. This works within minutes to numb the area, but you remain fully awake and able to feel pressure. Once the area goes numb, the rest of the procedure is very comfortable. People often remark that it’s weird as they know they should be feeling something but they are not.
Only biopsies and excision require sutures. Shaves, curettage and hyfrecation do not. The stitches may be dissolvable or may need removing in one to two weeks’ time.
We will always complete the appropriate paperwork and tell you about aftercare. You will need to keep the area dry for two days and not soak in a bath or swim for approximately two weeks until healing is complete. It is important to not pick at any scabs that form.
How long does the procedure take?
On average most procedures take between 30-45 minutes. Often it takes longer to set up beforehand and do the paperwork afterwards than the actual procedure.
How long will it take to heal?
The length of time to heal depends predominantly on the site of the lesion. The face tends to heal within a week while the legs often take more than two weeks. Other factors such as smoking, diabetes, age and associated illnesses will also play a role.
Will there be a scar?
You will always have a scar and scars are permanent. The type of scar depends on the procedure. Scars vary between different people (some are prone to developing overgrown scars) and at different sites depending on the forces acting on it, e.g. stretching and pulling over muscular areas. In general, facial scars heal best.
Will you test the mole for cancer when it’s been removed?
It depends. If the mole is a very stable and (in my view) clearly benign, it can be shaved or hyfrecated without necessarily being tested. If, however, you are worried or there is any doubt whatsoever about it being cancerous, it will be sent away for analysis. As a default, we do recommend that the vast majority of lesions are sent for checking as this is considered best practice – occasionally even benign-looking lesions can show abnormal changes.
There are a number of websites with DIY mole removal remedies. Can I try those?
You should never attempt mole removal at home. At best it would be quite painful and may lead to infection. At worst, skin cancers can be missed and not diagnosed until it is too late!
How do you know that the person removing the mole is medically trained and qualified to remove moles?
You must see a suitably qualified doctor or dermatologist for any concerns regarding your moles. Ask the clinic for the name and qualification of the practitioner who will be seeing you, and check on their professional register to ensure that they are indeed registered with them.
Dr Crichlow is the professional offering this service at The Skin to Love Clinic. She is a Consultant Dermatologist on the GMC Specialist Register, a member of the British Association of Dermatologists, and worked as an NHS Consultant at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital from 2009 until she started practicing exclusively in private practice in 2017. Mole assessment and removal has been a part of her job plan since she started her Dermatology training in 2004.
*NB Dr Crichlow is a General Dermatologist and NOT a Cosmetic/Plastic Surgeon. Therefore, depending on the size or location of a lesion, e.g. if it is close to the eye, lips and other sensitive cosmetic areas, Dr Crichlow may advise referral on to a Plastic Surgeon, Maxillofacial surgeon or other specialist surgical colleague to ensure that you get the best possible cosmetic outcome. Only relatively small, uncomplicated lesions will be treated at The Skin to Love Clinic. Patients deemed high risk for medical reasons, e.g. blood thinners and pacemakers, may also require further advice. Although email queries (with photos if a patient wishes) are accepted, please note that a full consultation is mandatory before any procedure takes place. Please note also that attending said consultation does not guarantee that a request for a procedure will then be accepted. In most cases, the procedure will not be done on the same day and will need to be booked in. The Skin to Love Clinic and its practitioners reserve the right to refuse treatment after the consultation and/or to refer elsewhere if deemed necessary. Please be reassured that all decisions are made on clinical grounds only and with your best interest in mind.
Disclaimer: This blog is not to be used for diagnostic purposes. We are all unique which means that our results, recovery and suitability for any type of treatment will vary. Always seek the advice of a professional should you have any health or cosmetic concerns or to discuss treatments specifically for you.