Normal Mole vs. Melanoma: What to Look for in a Self-Exam

Melanoma is the most deadly of all skin cancers. In 2019, the American Cancer Society estimates that 96,480 new melanomas will be diagnosed and approximately 7,230 people will die of melanoma.

It's important to know how to recognize the early warning signs of melanoma. You should examine your skin frequently to get used to the appearance of your moles. Follow the ABCDE below to identify any abnormal moles.

Normal Mole

  • Symmetrical

  • Well-defined, regular border

  • Same color throughout

  • Less than 6 mm

Melanoma

  • Asymmetrical

  • Irregular border

  • Inconsistent color within the lesion

  • Greater than 6 mm

1

Asymmetry: Normal Mole

normal mole photo

Skin Cancer Foundation 

A normal mole is symmetrical. One-half of the mole matches the other half in size, shape, color, and thickness. In this picture, you can see that any way you cut this mole in half, both sides will have the same characteristics.

Other normal characteristics of this mole include:

  • Border: The border of this lesion is distinct and not scalloped or notched.
  • Color: This lesion is flesh-colored and does have some red in it. However, the redness is consistent throughout the lesion.
2

Asymmetry: Melanoma

melanoma photo

 Skin Cancer Foundation 

Asymmetry is one sign that a mole is not normal. A lesion is asymmetric if half of the mole does not match the other half in size, shape, color, or thickness. In this picture of melanoma, you can see that the left side of the lesion is much thicker than the right side.

Other atypical features of this mole include:

  • Border: Even though the border is distinct throughout the lesion, the border on the top half is scalloped and notched.
  • Color: The color is inconsistent. The left side is black and the right side is brown.
3

Border: Normal Mole

Normal mole photo

Skin Cancer Foundation  

A normal mole has well-defined, regular borders. In this picture, even though the mole is a darker color, the border between the mole and the normal skin is distinct and consistent—not ragged or scalloped.

Other normal features of this mole include:

  • Symmetry: If you cut this mole in half, each half would have the same color, shape, and thickness.
  • Color: This mole is a consistent brown throughout.
4

Border: Melanoma

melanoma photo

 Skin Cancer Foundation 

The border of melanoma can be ragged, scalloped, blurred, or poorly defined. In this picture of melanoma, you can see that the border is scalloped or notched throughout.

Other abnormal features seen in this picture include:

  • Asymmetry: If you cut this lesion in half, the halves would not match in thickness, color, or shape.
  • Color: This lesion has some areas that are red and other areas that are back. The color is inconsistent throughout the lesion.
5

Color: Normal Mole

normal mole

Skin Cancer Foundation  

Normal mole color should be the same throughout and should not have shades of tan, brown, black, red, white or blue. Many benign lesions do not meet these criteria but that determination is best left to your dermatologist. In this picture, you can see that the mole is consistently brown. It does have some reddish features, but they are consistent throughout the lesion.

6

Color: Melanoma

melanoma photo

 Skin Cancer Foundation 

The color of melanoma is not consistent throughout the lesion and can be shades of tan, brown, black, red, white, or blue. In this picture, you can see that the color is definitely not consistent throughout. The right side of the lesion is dark black and the left side is tannish-red.

Other abnormal features seen in this picture include:

  • Asymmetry: If you cut this lesion in half, the halves would not match in thickness, color, or shape.
  • Border: This is also a good example of indistinct borders, especially on the top of the lesion. It also has scalloped edges and notching on the bottom left.
7

Diameter: Normal Mole

normal mole photo

Skin Cancer Foundation  

A normal mole can be any size but typically lesions that are less than 6 millimeters in diameter are less concerning for melanoma. This is a small mole that has other features of normal moles:

  • Symmetry: If you cut this lesion in half, both sides would match in color, thickness, and shape.
  • Border: The borders of this lesion are very distinct and are not scalloped or notched.
  • Color: The color is consistent throughout the mole.
8

Diameter: Melanoma

melanoma photo

Skin Cancer Foundation  

The diameter of a melanoma is usually greater than 6 millimeters. You can see in this picture that this lesion on the cheek is definitely larger than 6 millimeters.

Other abnormal features of this lesion include:

  • Asymmetry: If you cut this lesion in half, the halves would not look the same in color, size, and thickness.
  • Border: The border of this lesion is wavy and scalloped especially on the left. The border on the right side of the lesion is indistinct.
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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer. Revised August 14, 2019.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Moles to Melanoma: Recognizing the ABCDE Features.

  3. American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer. Revised August 14, 2019.

Additional Reading

  • "How to Perform a Self-Examination." American Academy of Dermatology. 2006. American Academy of Dermatology.