What Are the Different Types of Moles?

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Some moles are present from birth, while others appear later in life. Dermatologists use several factors to classify moles, such as when they form and their risk of becoming cancerous.  This article reviews the different types of moles and what they can look like. It also discusses what causes moles, how to treat them, and when to contact a doctor.

What are the different types of moles?

Closeup of butterflies on a person's back.
Anastasia Mihaylova (Shpara)/Stocksy United

You can have different types of moles.

Common moles

Common mole
DermNet New Zealand

Common moles are raised skin bumps, medically known as nevi. They are typically fewer than 5 millimeters (mm) wide, or about the width of a pencil eraser.

Common moles are oval or circular, with a defined edge. They feel smooth when you touch them. 

They are even in color throughout and can be: 

  • brown
  • tan
  • pink

Atypical moles 

Atypical mole
DermNet New Zealand

Also known as a dysplastic nevus, an atypical mole looks different from a common mole.

Atypical moles are not cancerous, but they can turn cancerous. If you have four or more atypical moles, you have a higher risk of developing melanoma.

These moles may have the following characteristics: 

  • They are larger than an eraser on the end of a pencil. 
  • They are not round or oval in shape. 
  • They include a mix of colors, including:
    • tan
    • brown
    • pink
    • red

Learn more about how to identify atypical moles.

Spitz nevus 

Spitz nevus
DermNet New Zealand

A Spitz nevus is a rare mole that appears similar to melanoma.

This type of mole may be dome-shaped and can vary in color, including:

  • pink
  • red
  • red-brown
  • blue-black
  • tan
  • non-pigmented

The American Cancer Society explains that these moles are typically benign. However, doctors sometimes have difficulty telling the difference between a Spitz nevus and a melanoma, which is why they often suggest removal. 

Acquired moles vs. congenital moles

Acquired moles develop after birth, whereas congenital moles are present from birth.

Both common and atypical moles can be either acquired or congenital. Spitz nevi are typically acquired during adolescence, but they can also be congenital. 

What causes moles?

A mole occurs when melanin grows in a cluster. However, doctors are still unsure what causes this growth pattern.

Certain factors may put you at a greater chance for congenital or acquired moles: 

  • Your genetics: According to experts, there seems to be a connection between moles occurring in multiple generations of family members. However, there isn’t a clear inheritance pattern. 
  • Sun exposure: New moles can appear after prolonged sun exposure. These are different from sunspots or freckles, which are flat.
  • Hormonal factors: If your body is experiencing hormonal changes like puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, you may notice new moles appear on your body. 

Learn more about what can cause a new mole.

How do I treat a mole?

The majority of moles do not require treatment.

However, if a mole is causing you discomfort, such as by rubbing against your clothing, you can contact your doctor about removing the mole.

You can also look into mole removal if you don’t like the appearance of a mole. However, remember that this procedure can cause a temporary or permanent scar. 

If you have a mole that looks cancerous or atypical, your doctor may suggest removal. 

Can I remove a mole? 

A primary care doctor or dermatologist can perform mole removal. You should never attempt to remove a mole yourself.

Moles contain blood vessels, so puncturing them can lead to significant bleeding and infection. 

Learn about mole removal.

What are the warning signs of a cancerous mole?

A new or rapidly changing mole that looks different from the other moles on your body could be a sign of skin cancer.

A mole that bleeds and does not heal can also be an indicator of melanoma. The ABCDE rule can help you identify moles that require medical attention.

This acronym stands for: 

  • Asymmetry: The mole does not have the same shape on both sides. 
  • Border: The mole has jagged or blurred edges rather than a smooth and clear border. 
  • Color: You notice multiple colors in the mole. 
  • Diameter: This mole has a diameter larger than 6 mm
  • Evolving: The mole’s appearance changes quickly.

If you have a mole that passes the ABCDE rule, it does not necessarily mean that you have melanoma. Atypical moles and Spitz nevi can pass this rule, and they are usually benign.

Additionally, melanoma may not display all of these characteristics. For example, it can be smaller than 6 mm. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about a mole.

Find out more about how to tell a mole from melanoma.

When should I see a doctor?

If you have several moles on your body, it’s a good idea to request a skin exam at routine checkups with your dermatologist or primary care doctor. You should also notify them about any new atypical moles that appear. 

If you have five or more atypical moles on your body, or a biological parent or sibling with a history of melanoma, your doctor may suggest more frequent skin exams, usually every 3–6 months.

How do doctors diagnose the type of mole?

Doctors typically diagnose mole types through a physical exam. In some cases, they may need to remove the mole and perform a biopsy to determine if the spot in question is a melanoma rather than a mole.

Knowing your family’s history of moles and skin cancer is also helpful for the diagnosis process. 

Can I prevent moles?

Some risk factors for moles are out of your control, like genetics or hormonal changes.

However, you can help prevent new moles from forming by adequately protecting your skin from sun damage. This can include wearing adequate protection from the sun and keeping your skin covered when outdoors. You should also avoid tanning beds.

Discover more ways to protect your skin from the sun.


There are multiple ways doctors classify moles. Common moles are moles that are symmetrical, small, and uniform in color. They also have defined borders.

Atypical moles are larger and asymmetrical, often with jagged or blurred edges. Spitz nevi are rare types of moles that are noncancerous tumors.

It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about a new or existing mole. They will be able to carry out a physical examination, and they may order tests to check for signs of cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 31
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