Mole Removal: Moles, freckles and skin tags
There are several skin lesions that are very common and benign (non-cancerous). These conditions include moles, freckles, skin tags, benign lentigines, and seborrheic keratoses.
Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. Most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 25 years of a person’s life. It is normal to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood. As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming raised and/or changing color. Sometimes, hairs develop in the mole. Some moles may not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over time.
What causes a mole?
Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles may darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.
How are moles treated?
If a doctor believes a mole needs to be evaluated further, he or she will do a biopsy by shaving or cutting out the entire spot so that it can be evaluated under the microscope. This is a simple procedure. (If the dermatologist thinks the mole might be cancerous, cutting through the mole will not cause the cancer to spread.)
If the mole is found to be cancerous, the dermatologist will cut out the entire mole or scar from the biopsy site by cutting out the entire area and a rim of normal skin around it, and stitching the wound closed.
A skin tag is a small flap of tissue that hangs off the skin by a connecting stalk. Skin tags are not dangerous. They are usually found on the neck, chest, back, armpits, under the breasts, or in the groin area. Skin tags appear most often in women, especially with weight gain, and in elderly people. Skin tags usually don’t cause any pain. However, they can become irritated if anything, such as clothing, jewelry, or skin rubs against them.
How are skin tags treated?
Your doctor can remove a skin tag by cutting it off with a scalpel or scissors, with cryosurgery (freezing it off), or with electrosurgery (burning it off with an electric current).
A lentigo is a spot on the skin that is darker (usually brown) than the surrounding skin. Lentigines are more common among whites, especially those with fair skin.
What causes lentigines?
Exposure to the sun seems to be the major cause of lentigines. Lentigines most often appear on parts of the body that get the most sun, including the face and hands. Some lentigines may be caused by genetics (family history) or by medical procedures such as radiation therapy.
How are lentigines treated?
There are several methods for treating lentigines:
- Cryosurgery (freezing it off)
- Laser surgery
- Skin creams such as retinoids and bleaching agents
Can lentigines be prevented?
The best way to prevent lentigines is to stay out of the sun as much as possible, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when outdoors, and wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. Avoid using tanning beds.
Freckles are small brown spots usually found on the face, neck, chest, and arms. Freckles are extremely common and are not a health threat. They are more often seen in the summer, especially among lighter-skinned people and people with light or red hair.
What causes freckles?
Causes of freckles include genetics and exposure to the sun.
Do freckles need to be treated?
Since freckles are almost always harmless, there is no need to treat them. As with many skin conditions, it’s best to avoid the sun as much as possible, or use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30. This is especially important because people who freckle easily (for example, lighter-skinned people) are more likely to develop skin cancer. If you feel that your freckles are a problem or you don’t like the way they look, you can cover them up with makeup or consider certain types of laser treatment, liquid nitrogen treatment or chemical peels.
Seborrheic keratoses are brown or black growths usually found on the chest and back, as well as on the head. They originate from cells called keratinocytes. As they develop, seborrheic keratoses take on a warty appearance. They do not normally lead to skin cancer.
What causes seborrheic keratoses?
The cause of seborrheic keratoses is unknown. They are seen more often as people get older.
How are seborrheic keratoses?
Seborrheic keratoses are harmless and are not contagious. Therefore, they don’t need to be treated. If you decide to have seborrheic keratoses removed because you don’t like the way they look, or because they are chronically irritated by clothing, methods for removing them include cutting them off, cryosurgery, and electrosurgery.