While the Internet can be a really terrific place to get information, you have to be careful where that information comes from. On a very regular basis, clients ask me if a darkened spot on their skin is a mole or a blackhead. This is a fantastic occurrence.
Sometimes, however, they tell me that they delayed treatment because they got information on the Internet that told them that their blackhead needed to be removed otherwise it would turn into a mole. Even worse are those who actually delay seeing their doctor because they hoped their suspicious mole was just a blackhead.
As a board certified dermatologist, I see blackheads and moles every day. This is my specialty, and I can tell you when we need to address a serious issue, and when you need to make a change in your skin care habits.
Blackheads are not moles, nor will they ever turn into moles. While blackheads and moles can be similar in appearance, they are caused by very different things. Blackheads are a non-inflammatory form of acne, caused by an accumulation of sebum and dead skin cells that become stuck or clogged inside one of your pores. When the sebum comes into contact with the air it begins to darken, hence the name “blackhead.” Often blackheads can be in place for quite some time before they are detected, and as more and more sebum and cells accumulate, the larger it becomes.
Blackheads can be caused by dehydration, an excess buildup of skin cells, increased sebum production, inadequate cleansing, and/or using skin care products and makeup that contain too much oil.
Moles are dark spots on your skin caused by increased melanin cells gathered in one place. When evaluating a mole to determine whether it is benign or precancerous, it pays to remember the A-B-C-D's of skin cancer warning signs:
Asymmetry – the 2 halves of the mole won't match, in other words, they do not form a perfect circle
Border – uneven borders can signal cancer, with scalloped or jagged edges
Color – multiple colors are a warning sign whereas benign moles are mostly a single color
Diameter – one quarter inch or larger for squamous cell cancer, basal cell cancer, however melanomas can be smaller and still deadly.
Moles develop with exposure to sun and may grow with pregnancy. If you have a suspicious spot, whether you believe it to be a mole or a blackhead, come in and see your dermatologist. Your dermatologist will help put your mind at ease, even if it is nothing to worry about. Most important, your physician will help you take care of something more serious!