It happens out of the blue: you’re brushing your hair, and you notice a couple of moles on your scalp. Should you be concerned?
As it turns out, finding a mole on your scalp is actually very common. Moles can occur anywhere on your body. But though moles are normal, it is possible for them to be a symptom of something dangerous.
The problem with having moles on the scalp is that it’s much harder to keep an eye on them. Unlike regular skin moles, scalp moles are, more often than not, hidden between your hair follicles, and you definitely need a good mirror to be able to closely examine them.
This article explores mole health A-Z, including the different types and causes of moles on the scalp, and potential treatment options.
Firstly, What are Moles?
A mole is a collection of pigment-producing cells that can form on the skin anywhere on your body. These cells, which sit close to the top layer of your skin, are a natural occurrence. In some cases, you’re born with a mole; other times, they develop in childhood or adulthood.
A mole, also known as a nevus, is considered to be a living thing. That’s why they can be so responsive to UV exposure. Sun exposure can increase melanin production in moles, causing them (and your skin) to become darker.1
Now, some mole changes can be the early signs of melanoma (skin cancer), so it’s extremely important to get to know your moles well. That way, you can spot any potential changes.
What Causes Moles on the Scalp?
Common moles can be either flat or raised, and they are generally round with an even, smooth edge. They will also commonly sprout hair.2 Moles can be caused by genetics, aging, sun exposure, and hormonal changes (like puberty and pregnancy).3
Because you have skin on your scalp, moles are bound to form between your hair follicles, just as they do anywhere else.
It is not abnormal to have a mole, or several moles, in your scalp and hair, along with the rest of your skin. They just might not be as easy to see as other moles on your body.
What’s The Difference Between a Mole and a Freckle?
Great question! Both freckles and moles involve the melanocyte cells that produce melanin. Melanin is what gives you your natural hair, eye, and skin color. It also helps to protect your skin from the sun’s dangerous rays. When you’re exposed to sunlight, melanin is what makes your skin darken.
are concentrated clusters of melanin produced by melanocyte cells. They develop because your melanocyte cells couldn’t produce enough melanin, either because of sun overexposure or because the melanin just wasn’t distributed evenly across your skin.
This confuses the melanin, so it clusters as brown spots.
Fair-skinned people naturally produce less melanin, so they can be more prone to freckles.
Freckles that are caused by genetics often fade in winter and reappear in summer, while those caused by sun exposure stay put.
Freckles, unlike moles, are always flat spots on the skin.
are caused by the actual melanocyte cells themselves clustering. This is why moles are usually bigger than freckles, and why they are often raised. Because these cells are active cells, they have the potential to continue to grow – and not necessarily in ways that are good for women’s or men’s health.4
Are Moles on the Scalp Dangerous?
Moles in your scalp and hair are most often benign, but in some cases, any mole can mutate into melanoma and become dangerous. What makes moles in the scalp and hair potentially more dangerous is that you can’t keep a good eye on them to observe any problematic changes.
That’s why it’s always best to have a dermatologist examine all your moles on an annual basis. They’ll also be able to get a good look at those moles on your back and head that you just aren’t able to see properly, and they can spot the signs of melanoma quickly.
Different Types of Moles on Scalp
Did you know that there are many different types of moles that can form on your skin? Most have many similarities. Here are a few of the most common.
As you now know, raised moles are quite common. And they can be especially annoying on your scalp, because they’re often hidden amongst your hair and easily scraped by a hairbrush.
Now, raised moles are often the types of moles that people consider having removed. Also, removal of a raised mole on your scalp won’t leave a visible scar.
If a mole isn’t brown, you’ll commonly find it to be a pink mole (or a slightly more skin-colored shade.) In fact, if you have fair skin and hair, you’re more likely to have lighter-colored moles than brown moles.5
A black mole can be common for those with naturally darker skin tones. Just as fairer-skinned people lean toward lighter colored-moles, you may find that you have moles that are dark brown or black in color.
Now, the danger with black moles is if they were once another color, and then they became black. Or if your mole appears to contain multiple shades of blacks and browns (and even blue, gray, or white).6
If you notice a mole turning black, or darkening, or one with multiple shades of blacks or browns, you should visit your dermatologist as soon as possible to get the mole examined.
Blue moles, also known as blue naevus, get their color from something called the Tyndall Effect, where light is scattering shorter wavelengths due to the melanin in the dermis of the skin.
These kinds of moles are very common in Asian populations and more so in women. It’s thought that they may be tied to genetics.7
Though blue moles can be found anywhere on the body, they are quite common in the scalp and hair.
Cherry angiomas are mole-like raised, bright red skin growths. While these aren’t technically moles, cherry angiomas resemble moles and they’re caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels in one small area.
Turns out, cherry angiomas are generally considered to be genetic, and they are most noticeable after age 30. They’re rare on the scalp but still can occur between the hair shafts.8
Note: No matter what type of mole you have, or it’s color, all moles should be treated with the same regard: you should always be aware of any changes in size, color, or shape, and if a mole bleeds a lot, it needs attention.
Why is My Mole Itchy?
An itchy mole can sometimes be cause for concern. But first, it’s best to make sure that it’s the mole itself that’s itching. When you consider your scalp, there are a lot of reasons why you could be itchy. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common:
In simple terms, the word seborrheic refers to overactivity of the sebaceous glands, resulting in excessive sebum and ultimately an oily coating, crust, or scales on the skin.
Seborrheic dermatitis can cause scalp tenderness with red, itchy patches of skin, flaky skin in the hair, and scalp tingling. It’s commonly triggered by things like stress, hormonal changes, harsh soaps, dry weather, and even some medications.9
Flaky scales caused by seborrheic dermatitis are quite thin and will be seen as either dry flakes (dandruff) or yellow, greasy scales on reddened skin. This condition is very common on the scalp.
If you suspect that your itchy scalp is due to dermatitis, try switching your regular shampoo for a medicated dandruff shampoo.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that’s similar to tinea found on the feet (athlete’s foot). In fact, it’s medical name is tinea capitis.
Scalp ringworm can appear as a dry, scaly rash, and it will often be quite itchy. Because it’s present among the hair follicles, it can cause breakage and hair loss.
This condition is easily treated. A doctor will usually prescribe antifungal drugs (or antifungal cream for children’s health), as well as a selenium sulfide shampoo.10
When talking about an itchy mole, melanoma should, of course, never be discounted.
Now, the key to determining whether any mole might become melanoma is by watching for distinct changes. Of course, this is very hard to do on your own head, so if a mirror doesn’t suffice, get your partner, a good friend, or your dermatologist to help monitor your moles.
ABCDEs of Melanoma
One of the ways that dermatologists consider moles is by using the “ABCDE” guide. This is also handy to use yourself.
- A is for Asymmetry: Does one half of the mole not match the other half?
- B is for Border: Are the edges of your mole irregular, ragged, or blurred?
- C is for Color: Is the color the same all over? Or does it include different shades of brown, black, pink, red, white, or blue?
- D is for Diameter: Is the spot larger than ¼ inch across – the size of a pencil eraser? (although melanomas can sometimes be smaller)
- E is for Evolving: Has the mole changed in size, shape, or color? Or is there a brand new mole? 11
It’s also important to talk to your doctor if you have:
- A mole whose border seems to spread into the surrounding skin
- A mole that becomes rough, red, and scaly, or if it oozes any liquid
- A mole that is itchy, painful, or swells
- A mole that bleeds easily
- A “wound” or irritation that doesn’t heal quickly
- A spot that becomes raised
- A mole or spot that exhibits the ugly duckling sign. That is, it doesn’t “fit in” with all those around it. It’s a little too unique.
Is It a Mole or Birthmark?
Here’s an interesting fact: if you’re born with a mole, it’s considered a birthmark and often called a “beauty mark.” Cindy Crawford’s famed mole is a perfect example of this. It’s very likely that you have your beauty mark!
Did you know that birthmarks can appear anywhere on your body, including your scalp? Let’s look a little deeper into the relationship between birthmarks and moles – and any potential dangers birthmarks may present.
Moles that you are born with are considered a pigmented birthmark. This is because they occur when you have more pigment in one area of your skin.
Pigmented birthmarks, often dubbed “beauty spots,” are small and round. They are usually no bigger than a pencil eraser, but there are variations. They may be brown, pink, black, or skin-toned.
But even a birthmark mole needs to be monitored. If it itches, bleeds, or doesn’t pass the ABCDE test, then you should definitely talk to your doctor.
Other pigmented birthmarks include Cafe-au-lait spots (flat, light brown marks that often spread across large areas) and Mongolian spots (blue-tinged birthmarks that appear on darker skin).12
Vascular birthmarks are caused by your blood vessels clumping together. This happens before birth, and approximately 1 in 10 babies are born with this type of birthmark.13
Port-wine stains, or nevus flammeus, is considered a vascular birthmark. Mikhail Gorbachev’s scalp is a great example of this kind of birthmark, as are Salmon Patches, which are paler pink in color, and often known as “angel’s kisses” or “stork bites.”
Other Types of Birthmarks
- Nevus Sebaceus
A nevus sebaceus is a rare type of birthmark that can be found on the face, neck, or scalp. It’s seen in around 0.3% of newborns. It occurs when there are too many oil glands in one section of skin, and they grow larger than normal.
When this type of birthmark occurs on the scalp, there may be hair loss (or a lack of hair growth) over the birthmark.
The cluster may appear flat but can also thicken over the years and appear like a cluster of warts. It’s usually yellow-pink or yellow-orange in color.
Most individuals don’t have any complications from a nevus sebaceus. It’s possible, though rare, that growths could become malignant later in life. So, it’s always good to keep an eye on this type of birthmark over time.14
- Congenital Melanocytic Nevi
Approximately one in every 50-100 people is born with a birthmark known as a congenital melanocytic nevi, or CMN. CMNs, which are caused by a pigment-producing cell, can range from a small dot to large marks across the face, scalp, and body. Larger CMNs are relatively rare.
Now, a CMN can be any shade of brown or black, or even dark purple, but it may change color over time.
CMNs are often flat, but they may also occur as lumpy.
Because melanoma is a disease of the skin cells which produce pigment, it’s also important to monitor this type of birthmark. But nodules, lumps, and color changes can also be common (and harmless) in those with CMN.15
Any rapidly changing areas should still be seen by a doctor.
Atypical moles, or dysplastic nevi, are unusual-looking moles. They may look similar to melanoma, but they’re actually benign (non cancerous.) However, if you have dysplastic nevi, you may be at increased risk of developing melanoma on your body. The more of these moles you have, the higher the risk.
But it’s important to note that even those with 50 or more “normal” moles are also at a higher risk of melanoma.16
Atypical moles are mostly hereditary, especially in Caucasians, and if you have them, be especially vigilant. Always wear good sun protection, give yourself regular self-examinations to check for changes, and have checks by a dermatologist as well.
What is Seborrheic Keratosis?
Seborrheic keratosis is a skin condition that is mostly hereditary but often appears with age. It is commonly found on the trunk, the face, and the scalp, and it’s one of the most common non-cancerous skin growths in adults.
Seborrheic keratoses appear as raised growths that are usually thick and waxy in appearance – they’re often compared to candle wax. They usually begin as a light tan shade but may darken considerably, and they can grow up to several inches long. Seborrheic keratoses are not contagious.
It’s important to understand this skin condition because these growths can appear very similar to malignant skin growths, though they are harmless. Unlike moles, they will never transform into a melanoma.
If you’re not sure if a growth is a seborrheic keratosis, have your dermatologist take a look, so you can be certain.17
Can You Remove a Mole?
A popular question when it comes to any skin growth or mark is, “Can I get it removed?”
Now, when it comes to removing a mole, there are a few key considerations you need to make:
- Am I okay with a scar in place of the mole?
- Does my board-certified dermatologist approve of removing the mole?
Under no circumstances should you ever try to remove a mole yourself.
At-home mole removal can:
- Leave serious scars (worse than if a professional had removed it)
- Create an infection
- Cause allergic skin reactions (if you’re using a so-called removal substance)
- Prevent the detection of melanoma, as the “evidence” has been removed without professional consultation18
Some people have also started tattooing over moles to cover them, but this can also prevent the detection of a potential melanoma down the line.
If you really hate an unsightly mole, or if it’s constantly getting bumped due to its positioning (like daily connections with a hairbrush,) talk to a qualified dermatologist. But a scar is almost certain, and it may look worse than the mole ever did.
A word on Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV): Somehow, apple cider vinegar has become an at-home remedy for removing moles. Please DO NOT try to remove a mole on your scalp, or anywhere else, with ACV – for all the above-mentioned reasons!
Moles on Scalp: Be Alert, Not Alarmed
Moles on the scalp, as with anywhere else on your body, are perfectly normal. But as with all aspects of men’s or women’s health, if something feels “off” (or you notice changes in your moles), seek help. Don’t put off having your mole checked by a professional.
Unfortunately, the threat of melanoma is real. So, you need to be vigilant with checking your skin, just in case. And don’t ever try to remove a mole on your own. This is best left to a dermatologist.
When it comes to moles on the scalp, it can be difficult to spot them in your hair. So make sure you have another set of eyes to help you stay on top of any moles, and any changes within those moles.
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