The National Cancer Institute estimates the average American adult has a total of about 10 moles. Some people can have 40 or more located on the arms, face, chest, and legs. Usually they are nothing more than harmless discolorations of the skin and nothing more. Unfortunately, it is possible in some cases for them to develop into malignant tumors. That’s why it’s important to check with your doctor if you ever notice the mole changing color or shape, or beginning to discharge fluid.
On the positive side, moles vary rarely become malignant tumors. Most of the time they just seem to appear with no rhyme or reason and with no discrimination to age, sex, or ethnicity. For most people moles begin appearing within the first 20 years of life and completely stop by the time a person reaches his 40s. But as with everything in the human body, there are exceptions.
Armed with this little bit of knowledge you might be wondering why moles appear to begin with. We’ll attempt to answer that as best we can in the following paragraphs.
The human skin is made up of various cell structures and tissues which work together to provide a defense against airborne pathogens. In fact, the skin is considered part of the immune system. Within the skin there are clusters cells known as melanocytes; it is these clusters, spread evenly throughout the skin, that provide the pigmentation that gives each individual his or her natural color. Occasionally groups of these clusters will attach themselves to surrounding tissue and multiply in that spot.
It’s interesting to note that when a mole first forms it usually goes unnoticed because it is flesh colored. It’s not until the mole is exposed to sufficient amounts of sunlight that it introduces additional pigments which give it the darker color normally associated with them. According to the National Cancer Institute, this process is so predictable it’s possible the number and placement of moles for each individual is determined in early childhood.
Although it has yet to be clinically proven, there is some concern that excessive exposure to sunlight can increase the number of moles a person will develop. The suspicion is that sunlight might encourage melanocytes to gather in larger groups and attach themselves to underlying tissue. If that’s the case, it would stand to reason that individuals living in sunny climates would be more susceptible to mole development.
If you find moles to be unsightly and annoying there is a little bit of good news as they relate to aging. In some people the aging process causes them to flatten out and lose some of their color. In a small number of individuals they even disappear completely.
If you’re not one of the lucky ones you can purchase over-the-counter mole creams that are easily applied. Most of them work very well in removing the unsightly blemishes without pain or complications.