Modern life, as busy as it often is, makes it easy to put important healthcare, like regular skin checks, on the back burner. Even if we know we should book in to get that new mole checked, sometimes, in a busy period, the idea of trying quick at-home health remedies sounds increasingly appealing.
As we approach summer and the risk of skin cancer intensifies, it's important that we keep a vigilant eye on our spots and moles. It may be tempting to save a trip to a professional clinic and remove moles yourself, but doing so poses several dangers to your body.
At SunDoctors, we care for the health of our patients, and we're here to help offer comprehensive skin health advice from our dedicated team of skin cancer professionals.
Moles: The Gateway to Skin Cancer
Much like freckles, moles are common skin growths. Most people average between 10 to 40 moles on their skin, and most are typically harmless. Unless your moles bother you by either affecting your appearance or irritating you when they come into contact with clothing, there is no need to have them removed.
Moles are developed from 'melanocytes' — clusters of skin cells that produce the pigment of your skin, hence the dark brown or black appearance. They are smooth-edged and round in shape but can vary in texture (smooth or rough) and height (flat or raised) or perhaps have extra hair growing from them.
However, atypical moles, or moles that change colour, size and shape, have the potential to develop into melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma is a highly aggressive form of skin cancer as it can spread to other areas of the body. Thus, self-diagnosis and home remedies can be dangerous because, without a professional opinion, it is incredibly difficult to determine if the removed mole is cancerous and if it has spread or not. In fact, even doctors with decades of experience diagnosing skin cancer will opt for a small biopsy to confirm if a mole is malignant.
The Appeal of DIY Mole Removal
No one knows your body as well as you do. This is where the convenient but ill-advised appeal of at-home mole removal comes in. Rather than booking an appointment, it's easy to conduct mole checks yourself. Besides, moles appear anywhere on your body, and any of them can develop into skin cancer.
It's understandable where the misconception that DIY mole removals are cheaper, quicker and simpler than meeting with your doctor or having a skin cancer screening comes from. While noting the changes in your moles and checking for the potential signs of skin cancer is something we can all do, it's safer to get a professional opinion.
The Dangers of At-Home Mole Removal
Ultimately, 'do-it-yourself' mole removable methods are not proven to work and can potentially result in nasty side effects. Across the web, you may find various unproven mole removal treatments that you should avoid, such as:
- Using scissors or a blade to cut off a mole or removing it with a specialised pen.
- Using apple cider vinegar to burn off a mole.
- Taping garlic onto a mole to destroy the cells inside it.
- Breaking down cells inside a mole with iodine or a mixture of ingredients like baking soda, tea tree oil, frankincense oil, flaxseed oil, hydrogen peroxide and aloe vera gel.
- Using mole removal creams, purchased online or at pharmacies.
As a blanket rule, cutting off skin growth at home with a sharp tool (like scissors or a knife) is a no-go since it increases your risk of infection, especially if the tools are not properly sterilised. Without proper post-treatment care, a large and permanent scar may also form where the mole once was.
Similarly, academic research has shown that mole removal creams can cause intense scarring in the area of the mole. This is due to the application procedure of these products requiring you to scrape off the top layer of the mole and apply the cream, which will form a scab within a day. When this scab falls off, so will the mole, according to these products. Again, this has not been proven to work.
Importance of Professional Assessment
Not sure if your moles are signs of skin cancer? It's best to get a skin check immediately. The sooner skin cancer is identified, the lower the likelihood of extensive surgery or life-threatening illness. If you're over the age of 50, have a fair complexion or are generally in a high-risk group for melanoma, having a skin check once a year is recommended.
At SunDoctors, our skin checks only take 15 minutes. The benefit is that our highly-trained doctors in skin cancer detection can examine and even take a sample of suspicious moles for biopsy if they need further examination. Most moles, including benign ones, can be removed during a routine appointment.
- Asymmetry: Most benign spots tend to be consistently shaped. Seek advice if a spot becomes elongated, irregular or asymmetrical over time.
- Borders: Book an appointment if your spots look uneven, scalloped, raised or blurred. This includes if there is a white ring around the spot.
- Colour: If a mole displays multiple colours at once (different shades of black, brown, tan, red, white or blue), this can sometimes be a sign of melanoma.
- Diameter: Melanoma can be over 6 mm in diameter as it develops, but cancerous spots can also start smaller, like squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.
- Evolving: If any of the aforementioned characteristics of your spots change over time, especially if they begin to itch, crust or bleed.
Safe and Effective Mole Removal
While most mole removals can be carried out in the clinic during your appointment, some may require a follow-up visit.
The types of surgical procedures for non-cancerous mole removal include:
- Freezing 'Cryotherapy': A small amount of liquid nitrogen can be applied.
- Burning: An electric current burns off the upper layers of a mole. This potentially requires more than one session.
- Shaving: A surgical blade is used to shave the mole off the skin's surface
For malignant moles, excision is used. The deepest form of surgical removal, this process goes deeper than shaving and requires the skin to be sewn back up. This is done under anaesthetic.
Be Skin Safe
Ultimately, with the high risk of skin cancer in our beautiful country, performing at-home mole removal is not worth the risk. Instead, prioritise healthy habits by keeping a close eye on your spots and any abnormalities, and once a year, book a skin check appointment.
For any skincare concerns or expert advice, our friendly team at SunDoctors is more than happy to have a chat.