Moles form on your skin when clusters of melanocytes, or pigmented skin cells, grow in small, concentrated areas. They usually appear as colored bumps or spots that vary in shape and size and are darker than the rest of your skin. They usually ranging from tan to brown to black. Most moles, often called common moles, are benign.

But what about a mole that has one or more hairs growing out of it? It’s a popular myth that hairy moles are often cancerous, but that’s all it is: a myth. In fact, the presence of a hair growing out of a mole may indicate that the spot is actually healthy and noncancerous.

It’s possible for hair to grow through the surface of a mole if the mole’s positioned over a hair follicle. Because the normal skin cells that make up a mole are healthy, hair growth may continue as normal. The follicle produces the hair, not the actual mole. The hair then breaks through the surface of the mole just as it would through any other skin cell.

It’s not unusual to see one or multiple hairs growing out of a mole. In some cases, the hair that grows out of a mole may appear darker or thicker than the other body hair surrounding it. This is because the extra pigment in the cells may darken the hair, too.

Anecdotal evidence from dermatologists and other clinicians suggests that it’s not common for a hairy mole to be cancerous. However, that doesn’t mean the mole can’t develop into cancer. In that case, doctors speculate that perhaps when the cells on a mole’s surface above the hair become abnormal, it inhibits hair growth.

Another part of this myth suggests that removing the hair growing through a mole could actually cause the mole to become cancerous. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

You can safely remove hair protruding from a mole if you wish — particularly if you don’t like the way it looks. Remove hair just as you would any other unwanted body hair. You can pluck the hair or have it removed by electrolysis.

If the mole is flat and flush against your skin, you can shave over it or wax it. However, you’ll want to avoid using a razor over a raised mole.

If you’re concerned about irritating the mole, you can try trimming it as close as possible to the surface of your skin. If you’ve already experienced irritation when attempting to remove the hair, you can ask your dermatologist to remove the mole.

Having a mole removed is a simple, in-office procedure. First, your doctor will numb the area by injection, then either shave off or cut out the mole. If the mole is large, your doctor may opt to close the site with a few stitches. While mole removal is usually easy and straightforward, you may be left with a permanent scar at the site. Depending on the mole’s location, you may want to weigh the risk of scarring against the benefits of removal.

Moles tend to grow on parts of your skin that have had repeated or prolonged sun exposure, but that’s not always the case. They can appear anywhere on your body. Those with fair skin are more susceptible to developing moles (and more of them) than people with darker skin. Most people have a low to moderate number of moles (10 to 40) on their bodies, and others have upwards of 50.

Healthy, typical moles range from a small, flat spot to a larger bump the size of a pencil eraser and are usually:

  • symmetrical, round, and even
  • surrounded by a smooth border
  • consistent in appearance and don’t change
  • uniform in color: brown, tan, red, pink, flesh-toned, clear, or even blue
  • no larger than 5 millimeters (¼ inch) wide

People who have more moles on their bodies or repeated sun damage are more likely to develop skin cancer. It’s important to keep an eye on your moles and visit your dermatologist regularly. Even healthy moles can transform into cancer, such as:

Signs to watch for in an atypical mole include:

  • irregular, asymmetrical shape
  • uneven or jagged borders not clearly separated from the surrounding skin
  • two or more colors inside the mole, usually a combination of black, brown, pink, white, or tan
  • a size larger than a pencil eraser
  • a change in surface texture: rough, scaly, crusty, smooth, or bumpy
  • itching
  • bleeding
  • rapid change or growth

The initial signs of melanoma usually involve changes to an existing mole or the appearance of a new one. Checking your own skin regularly for changes is the best way to identify concerning moles early. If you have several moles or a history of skin cancer, it’s best to have an annual mole check from a dermatologist.

It’s important to remember that having an atypical mole doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. It’s normal for typical moles to darken or lighten in pigment over time. But if you do notice changes or unusual features like those listed above, make an appointment with your dermatologist. They can remove the mole and have it sent to a lab to be tested for signs of cancer.

If you notice a hairy mole, there’s probably no reason to be alarmed. The presence of hair growing through the surface of a mole indicates that there’s a healthy hair follicle underneath — and likely, healthy skin cells above. Most of the time, hairy moles don’t develop into cancer.

If you’re self-conscious about the mole, though, you may remove the hair or opt to have your dermatologist remove the mole itself. If you’re concerned about the possibility of skin cancer, see your doctor for an exam and ask if a biopsy of the site is necessary.