Atypical Moles

Atypical moles are skin growths that are usually bigger than 6 mm wide (about the size of a pencil eraser). They have an irregular shape and borders that are not well defined and that can fade into the skin. Atypical moles can be more than 2 different colors. These colors are often different shades of brown.

Atypical moles can sometimes look like a type of skin cancer called melanoma. But atypical moles are benign (not cancerous).

Path to improved health

Protect your skin from the sun. If you are going to spend time outdoors, plan you day to avoid peak sun. Try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Use sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher. Reapply it every 2 hours. You can also wear protective clothing (for example, long sleeves and long pants). Never use a tanning bed.

Things to consider

People who have a lot of atypical moles have a higher risk of developing melanoma. This is especially true if they also have family members who have had melanoma.

An atypical mole can become cancerous. If you have an atypical mole, have your doctor examine it. He or she may remove the mole or have it checked for melanoma or other types of skin cancer. Most atypical moles do not need to be removed.

When to see a doctor

Watch your skin for new moles or any changes in your moles. If you have a mole that bleeds or itches, tell your doctor right away. Also tell your doctor if a mole changes in size, shape, or color, or if becomes scaly or crusty.

See your doctor regularly for skin checks. Your doctor should examine your skin at least once a year.

Questions for your doctor

  • How often do you need to check my atypical mole?
  • Can I prevent more moles from forming?
  • Is itching the only way to know if my atypical mole is changing?
  • Can you remove the mole even though it poses no health risk?


National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Moles