What to Look For When Evaluating Skin Moles


Moles are curious little creatures.  Some arrive with you right out of the womb, some appear in childhood, and some don’t appear until adulthood.  They range in color from pink to black. And they range in size from a tiny little dot to larger than a quarter.  Some moles look like targets and others like halos.

With all of these different colors, shapes and sizes, it can be tricky to know what to look for when you look at your skin.

One way to approach your moles is to use the “ugly duckling” method.  The ugly duckling from the well-known bedtime story did not fit in because he did not look like the other little ducklings. His different appearance made him stick out like a sore thumb.

This can be applied to moles.  You may have 49 moles that are dark brown with smooth borders and a round shape, and then one mole that is dark brown and pink and irregularly shaped.  That mole is your ugly duckling of the bunch.  The difference between this ugly duckling and the one in the story, however, is that yours is not going to turn into a beautiful swan.  It likely needs to be removed.

In keeping with the lessons from kindergarten, the alphabet is also a helpful reference when checking your moles. The ABCDE criteria have long been used to identify concerning moles.  A is for asymmetry, B is for border irregularity, C is for color variation, D is for diameter (more than 6mm or larger than a pencil eraser) and E is for evolution, meaning changing.

The one that patients can really monitor is the last one, evolution.  You see your moles daily, while as dermatologists we see your moles only when you come in to have them checked.   If a mole gets darker, lighter, pinker, larger or even smaller, it will be more quickly apparent to you than to anyone else.  A change in a mole may be a sign of atypia.  It may also be an early sign that the mole is turning into melanoma.
Basically, when you see a change in your moles, you need to see a dermatologist.

Over 70 percent of melanomas are first noticed by patients and their families.  Look at your moles once a month.  Have your spouse or a family member help you keep track of moles on your back.  Taking 10 minutes a month to check your moles could actually save your skin and your life.  And finding the ugly ducklings can lead to a much happier and healthier ending.

Article by
Atlanta Dermatologic Surgeon