What Benign Moles Look Like

Moles are benign tumors that come from melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells in the skin that make the pigment melanin. Moles come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. For example, there are pink moles, red moles, flat moles, raised moles, light moles, speckled moles, mature moles, and more. 

Some moles have the potential to turn into the skin cancer melanoma, but this gallery contains pictures of normal, noncancerous moles and includes a discussion about what makes them benign-appearing.

Flat Mole

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Flat Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

The moles in this picture are completely benign. One of the features of benign moles is their uniform color throughout, but these moles actually have a speckled pattern. Flat moles like this, especially if they have recently developed, can have color variations throughout. These moles have all the other features of benign moles. They are symmetric (you can draw a line through the middle and they are essentially the same on both sides), they have regular, rounded borders, and each one is fewer than 6 millimeters in diameter. The other clue that the mole color is not concerning is that this person has several other moles that look just like this.

Light Mole

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Light Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

This mole is slightly raised and you can see that it's the same color as the surrounding skin. Depending on where it is located, a mole that becomes raised can get cut when shaving or interfere with clothing or jewelry. Most insurance companies will pay to have moles removed for these reasons, and also if the moles itch, hurt, or have any suspicious features.

Mature Mole

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Mature Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

This is a mature mole because the skin surrounding it has wrinkles throughout. The mole itself has been present for many years. This mole has all the features of benign moles.

If a mole forms over a hair follicle, over time the hair may grow through the mole and poke out the other side. This is very common, and removing the hair by plucking or shaving will not cause the mole to become cancerous.

Speckled Mole

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Speckled Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

This is another example of a​ benign mole that doesn't meet the general color rule. If you remember, one of the typical features of benign moles is that they have a consistent color throughout. This mole, however, is flesh colored on the perimeter and brown in the center.

It's benign because it has been there for years and hasn't changed, and all of this person's other moles have the same color variation. This is a good example of why you should have your skin checked regularly by a healthcare provider and why you should do your own skin self-exams. Knowing what your moles typically look like helps you notice any changes and helps you figure out when you should see your healthcare provider.

Raised Mole

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Raised Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

This is a great example of a benign mole. Even though it's raised, it has a very consistent color throughout and well-defined border. Depending on its location on the body, though, this kind of raised mole can cause problems if it gets caught on clothing or jewelry, or gets nicked when shaving. These would be reasons that an insurance company would typically pay to have this mole removed.

Light, Raised Mole

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Light, Raised Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

Here is another example of a raised mole that could easily get caught on clothing or jewelry. Sometimes a mole can be difficult to distinguish from a seborrheic keratosis, also known as a skin barnacle. Those rarely become cancerous, but if they do they are associated with basal cell carcinomas.

Red, Raised Mole

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Red, Raised Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

Since moles stick out from the body, they can get irritated or caught on clothing and jewelry. Sometimes they itch and get irritated with vigorous scratching. This will cause changes in the mole's appearance.

As you can see in this picture, a portion of this mole looks like it's been rubbing against something, causing irritation. This red, raised mole should heal in the same amount of time that it takes for abrasions on other parts of the skin to heal.

Pink, Raised Mole

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Pink, Raised Mole

Heather L. Brannon, MD

If you compare this pink mole to the previous two moles, you can see that this mole is pretty typical. Just because a lesion is raised doesn't mean that it's skin cancer. Note the difference in the skin surrounding this pink mole, compared with the surrounding skin in the previous pictures. Can you see all the freckles? This person has fair skin that tends to burn instead of tan, which is a risk factor for melanoma.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a mole?

    A mole is a benign skin tumor, also known as a melanocytic nevus. Some people are born with moles, while others get them later in life (usually within the first two decades). Moles can either be subdermal (developing beneath the surface of the skin) or appear as a darkened growth on the skin.

  • What causes moles?

    A mole is made up of skin cells called melanocytes that produce the skin-darkening pigment melanin. The high concentration of melanin gives moles their darkened appearance. Genetics influence a person's risk of having a mole, while sunlight may contribute to the development of moles later in life.

  • Are all moles benign?

    By definition, all moles are benign (meaning non-cancerous), but certain types have a greater likelihood of turning cancerous. Congenital moles you are born with are less likely to become cancer, while atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) that mainly develop on sun-exposed skin can sometimes become cancer.

  • What does an atypical mole look like?

    Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) look different from common moles in that they tend to be larger, flat, and have a mixture of several different colors (ranging from pink to brown to black). Atypical moles are irregularly shaped and can be scaly or have a slightly pebbled surface.

  • What are signs that a mole is turning cancerous?

    Any change in a mole's appearance should warrant concern. If a mole changes size, shape, or color or starts to bleed, see a healthcare provider. Although there may be other causes for these changes, a medical professional will want to conduct tests to ensure that you don't have a type of skin cancer called melanoma.

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7 Sources
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