Mole Removal Overview

By: Alexander Page

Skin Problems Image Gallery Most moles are benign, but dermatologists can remove moles and test them to determine if they're cancerous. See more pictures of skin problems.
Skin Problems Image Gallery Most moles are benign, but dermatologists can remove moles and test them to determine if they're cancerous. See more pictures of skin problems.
© Keith

Moles are like opinions -- almost everyone has one. In fact, it's normal to have 10 to 40 moles on your skin by adulthood [source: WebMD]. Moles appear when cells grow in clusters instead of spreading throughout the skin. These cells, called melanocytes, make the pigment that gives skin its color, and they can cause moles to darken during teenage years, after sun exposure or during pregnancy [source: WebMD]. Moles can appear anywhere on your body -- from your face to your feet -- and they're typically harmless. However, some moles can be cancerous.

Most moles are brown or black in color and smaller than the size of a pencil eraser -- but if your mole doesn't fit this description, that doesn't necessarily mean it's cancerous. However, if your mole is asymmetrical, has an irregular border, is different colors or changes shape, you may want to see a dermatologist [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Most moles are benign, but a dermatologist will be able to remove the mole and test it to determine if it's cancerous [source: Leffell].


But cancer isn't the only reason to have a mole removed. Many people elect to get rid of moles because they simply don't like the way they look. If you have an unsightly mole, you don't have to live with it. An hour in an operating room and a couple weeks of recovery could leave you mole-free and confident. There are several mole-removal procedures available; however some are more effective than others.

Keep reading to learn about mole removal procedures.

Mole Removal Procedures

Whether you're removing your mole for cosmetic purposes or for health reasons, there are two main methods of mole removal: excision with stitches and excision with cauterization. Both of these mole-removal methods are considered surgical procedures, and an anesthetic will be used to numb the area around the mole [source: Mayo Clinic].

Excision with cauterization involves using a scalpel to shave a mole down to skin level or just below it. This will inevitably cause bleeding, which the doctor will stop using either an electrical instrument or a solution to cauterize the affected area. Excision with stitches involves a slightly deeper cut than the previous method -- a surgeon will determine how much skin surrounding the mole must also be removed and then draw an outline around it. The surgeons cuts the entire area is cut out of the body, and uses stitches are used to close the wound [source: Schlessinger].


Occasionally, doctors may also suggest a punch biopsy to remove a very small mole -- a technique that involves a small incision made by a cookie-cutter-like device [source: Mayo Clinic]. But while other mole-removal methods have been tried, none have proved as effective as excision. If you're uncomfortable with these methods, there are alternatives, such as mole-removal creams. Keep reading to find out how these creams work.

Does Mole-removal Cream Work?

If the idea of needles and scalpels is more than you can handle, you could try a mole-removal cream. There are quite a few creams on the market that claim to remove moles. However, they don't usually work [source: Gibson].

It's easy to see why people are tempted to try mole removal creams: They offer a cheaper, surgery-free way to get rid of moles. But if you're not careful with these creams, you could end up with a scar or a skin infection. Most mole removal creams require you to scratch the surface of your mole before application. The cream then enters your body through the open sore and basically burns the skin and creates a scab underneath the mole. In theory, the scab will eventually fall off and take the mole with it [source: Coleman].


Sometimes mole-removal creams work, but they often remove more than just the mole. These creams can leave pits in your skin where the mole used to be, or they can cause scarring that's more noticeable than the mole itself. They can also make your skin more susceptible to infection, and by removing a mole yourself, you could miss the early warning signs of cancer [source: Coleman].

Keep reading to learn how much surgical mole-removal treatments cost.

Mole Removal Cost

You can do a lot in an hour. You can watch a couple of sitcoms, you can get a pedicure, and you can even get a mole removed. Of course, getting a mole removed is a little more complicated than the first two options -- and it's more expensive. There isn't a set cost for mole removal because all moles are different and prices vary by doctor, but plan to spend between $100 and $500 [source: Hacker].

The price of a mole-removal procedure is usually based on the size, shape and location of the mole and the complexity of the procedure. For example, having a large mole removed from your cheek will typically cost more than having a small one taken off your arm. First of all, the size of the moles is different -- it takes more time to remove a larger mole and therefore it costs more. Secondly, the skin on your cheek is more cosmetically sensitive than the skin on your arm and may require a more complex procedure [source: Hacker].


Finally, you must also consider the cost of pathology -- most doctors recommend that every mole be sent for pathological study to determine whether it's cancerous. Typically, cosmetic removal of moles isn't covered by insurance, but the removal of a potentially cancerous mole is covered. However, insurance policies differ, so it's best to check with your provider to determine whether the cost of mole removal is covered [source: Hacker].

Keep reading to learn what to do following a mole removal procedure.

Mole Removal Aftercare

It doesn't take much to ensure a speedy recovery and minimal scarring after a mole-removal procedure. All you have to do is follow a few simple steps and avoid some common mistakes to ensure your skin will be as good as new in a couple weeks.

Following a mole-removal procedure, you should clean the area twice a day with water or diluted hydrogen peroxide and apply an antibiotic cream and a clean bandage [source: Schlessinger]. You may have heard that air helps a wound heal, but studies show that cuts heal faster when they're treated with an antibiotic cream and covered with a bandage. And while topical vitamin E may help reduce scarring, it's best to wait to apply it until the wound heals completely. Applying vitamin E too soon can slow the healing process and possibly make scarring even worse [source: Schlessinger].


For more information on mole removal, see the links on the following page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Moles." 2007. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Atypical (dysplastic) Moles." (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Coleman, Claire. "Young Women Are Resorting to Dangerous DIY Mole Removal Kits." Pro Nurse. September 21, 2009. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Gibson, Lawrence E. MD. "More removal cream: Does it work?" Mayo Clinic. February 2, 2008. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Hacker, Steven MD. "The cost of mole removal." Real Self. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Kopf, Alfred W. MD, Arthur J. Sober MD & Steven Q. Wang MD. "Dysplastic Nevi Prevention Guidelines." Skin Cancer Foundation. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Leffell, David J. "Warning Spots of Cancer and Moles." Yale. 2000. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Moles: Treatments and drugs." February 19, 2008. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Rodriguez, Diana. "Get the Facts on Cancer Moles." Everyday Health. January 8, 2009. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Schlessinger, Joel MD. "Mole Removal: After the Procedure." Emedicine Health. July 14, 2009. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Schlessinger, Joel MD. "Mole Removal: During the Procedure." Emedicine Health. July 14, 2009. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • Skin Care Physicians. "What is Skin Cancer?" American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed 09/30/2009)
  • WebMD. "Skin Conditions: Moles, Freckles and Skin Tags." (Accessed 10/12/09)