Moles, or nevi, are prevalent skin growths often characterized by small, dark brown spots formed by clusters of pigment-forming cells known as melanocytes. Typically, individuals develop 10 to 45 moles during childhood and adolescence, and the appearance of these moles may undergo changes over time. Some moles may even fade over the years.

While the majority of moles are benign and harmless, there is a rare chance of them becoming cancerous. It is crucial to stay vigilant for any alterations in your moles and other pigmented patches, as this awareness plays a key role in detecting skin cancer, particularly malignant melanoma.


Typical moles usually present as small brown spots, yet they exhibit diversity in colors, shapes, and sizes:

  • Color and texture: Moles can be brown, tan, black, blue, red, or pink. Their textures vary, appearing smooth, wrinkled, flat, or raised. Some may even have hair growing from them.
  • Shape: The majority of moles are oval or round.
  • Size: Moles generally have a diameter of less than 1/4 inch, which is approximately the size of a pencil eraser. However, congenital nevi, present at birth, can be larger and cover parts of the face, trunk, or limbs.

Moles can emerge anywhere on the body, including the scalp, armpits, under the nails, and between fingers and toes. Most individuals have between 10 to 45 moles, with many appearing by the age of 40. Moles may undergo changes or fade away over time, with some becoming darker and larger due to hormonal shifts during adolescence and pregnancy.

Dermatoses papulosa nigra, characterized by clusters of brown spots around the eyes, cheeks, and nose, are a form of noncancerous seborrheic keratosis. These growths, which can appear waxy and range in color from brown to black or tan, differ from moles as they do not consist of clusters of pigment-forming cells (nevi). Although not associated with melanoma risk, dermatoses papulosa nigra can be treated as a cosmetic concern and are more prevalent among Black women.

Abnormal moles that could be indicative of melanoma

A mole may indicate skin cancer if it exhibits irregular borders, an asymmetrical shape, or undergoes changes in color, shape, size, or height. The ABCDE guide serves as a helpful mnemonic to identify potential warning signs:

  • A (asymmetrical shape): One half is dissimilar to the other.
  • B (border): Search for moles exhibiting irregular, notched, or scalloped borders.
  • C (changes in color): Observe growths that have altered color, display multiple colors, or have uneven coloring.
  • D (diameter): Take note of new growth in a mole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 mm).
  • E (evolving): Be vigilant for moles that undergo changes in size, shape, color, or height. Additionally, watch for new symptoms like itchiness or bleeding.

Cancerous moles, also referred to as malignant moles, can vary greatly in appearance. Some may manifest all the listed changes, while others might exhibit only one or two unusual traits. If a mole looks unusual, grows, or undergoes any changes, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your doctor.


Melanocytes are typically dispersed throughout the skin and are responsible for producing melanin, the natural pigment that imparts color to the skin. The formation of moles occurs when clusters of melanocytes grow together.