[By Fiona Ling]
What do Marilyn Monroe, Cindy Crawford and Blake Lively have in common? Sultry eyes? Luscious lips? Sexy curves? Think again.
Perhaps having a larger than life impression that one comes to associate these celebs with will be that little mole marking each of these famous faces.
The term ‘mole’ has been used loosely to describe a variety of skin imperfections. Personally, I prefer to call them ‘beauty marks’. In the early 90s when I was still a struggling intern at a local magazine; I had a copy of Herb Ritt’s famous black & white portrait shot of supermodel Cindy Crawford for VOGUE plastered to the wall of my tiny cubicle. She was my idol, a fashion goddess of Amazonian proportions and the epitome of modern beauty. (to sidetrack, that was before she got married to MY Richard Gere). Before I exit my flat in my LBD on a Saturday’s night out to Zouk; I would feel extra flirtatious after I penciled in a spot above my lips; just like that of Cindy’s. As no one is born equal, moles can be deemed as ‘ugly marks’ instead of ‘beauty marks’ to some. Sarah Jessica Parker and Enrique Iglesias both had their equally famous ones removed; most likely out of cosmetic reasons.
So what exactly are these spots on our skin called moles?
The medical term for most moles is melanocytic naevus (plural nevi). They are composed of a collection of cells known as melanocytes. Melanocytes are the pigment producing cells responsible for the colour of our skin. Although most moles we are familiar with are brownish; they come in a variety of colour that can be red, tan, black and flesh tone. Some of them are flat, while others are raised; usually round or oval in shape with a smooth, defined edge. Moles can appear virtually anywhere on the skin, including the scalp, eyes, lips, palms, soles, genitals and even around the anal region. So what are the truths and myths concerning these pigmented spots?
Myth! ALL MOLES ARE BIRTHMARKS.
Only a small percentage of moles known as congenital melanocytic nevi are present at birth. Majority of moles develop in the first 30 to 35 years of life and are known as acquired melanocytic nevi. Compared to people of darker skin type, moles are more common in people with fairer skin. There is a genetic disposition to moles, often in the case of people with lots of them. However, the way you were brought up may also make a difference. Frequent sun exposure in childhood or perhaps even later in life promote the growth of moles. Other skin lesions such as sun spots (solar lentiges) and seborrhoeic keratoses are clearly proportionately related to unprotected sun damage as well.
Myth! I WILL NOT DEVELOP NEW MOLES AS AN ADULT.
While many moles arise during childhood in the first years of life, the total number of moles typically peaks in adulthood in the second or third decade of life to an average of 35. The later in life they develop, the closer we got to watch them. A brand-new mole in an adult may be a sign of an evolving abnormal mole or early cancerous changes.
Myth!. ONLY HAIRY MOLES CAN BECOME CANCER.
Much more worrying than their aesthetic implication is that a small number of moles may go on to develop into lesions known medically as maglinant melanoma. This is the most severe form of skin cancer and can be fatal unless identified early and treated with surgical excision. Mole surveillance is especially important if you have many moles (more than 25) and of very fair skin type. All moles, with or without hair, need to be properly assessed by a doctor if they present with one or more of the following changes.
- A — Asymmetrical
- B — Irregular borders
- C — Multiple colors
- D — Diameter bigger than 6mm, roughly the size of a pencil eraser
- E — Evolving, changing, or new mole
Myth! MOLES CAN BE REMOVED BY LASER.
Laser removal is the simplest method for getting rid of troublesome and unsightly moles. It is however important for them to be properly assessed and ascertained to be benign by a qualified medical practitioner before removal. During the procedure, the laser seals the blood vessels and evaporates the tissue that is removed. Therefore, it is not necessary to cut the skin or to use sutures. Consequently, laser removal of moles is less likely to create scarring like other forms of mole removal. Post laser treatment, a scab forms in the area where the mole once was. This usually takes about 5 to 10 days to fall off on its own.
“Post laser care for the treated skin may be as important as the procedure itself. “ says Dr. Chua Han Boon of The Sloane Clinic. “There is a condition known as post inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH that commonly affect Asians.” Dr. Chua explained. “It is important not to pick on the scab and apply adequate sun protection. Otherwise you might end up with a dark spot in the area where the mole used to be”