Getting your mole removed

Surgically removing a mole, either for cosmetic reasons or because the mole is cancerous, will result in a scar. However, the resulting scar may all but disappear on its own depending on such factors as:

  • your age
  • the type of surgery
  • the location of the mole

You may find it almost impossible to see exactly where the procedure was done. Or, the resulting scar may be more noticeable than you’d like.

There are a variety of products and methods you can try to minimize a mole removal scar. First, it may be helpful to understand a little about how moles are removed and what the normal healing process is like.

How moles are removed

A mole can usually be removed by a dermatologist in a single office visit. Occasionally, a second appointment is necessary.

The two primary procedures used to remove moles are:

  • Shave excision. For this procedure, your dermatologist uses a thin, razor-like tool to carefully slice away the mole. A device with a tiny electrode at the end may be used to perform electrosurgical feathering.

The feathering helps minimize the appearance of the excision by blending the edges of the wound with the surrounding skin. Stitches are not needed after a shave excision. The mole is usually examined under a microscope afterwards to check for signs of skin cancer.

  • Surgical excision. This procedure is deeper than a shave excision and more like traditional surgery. Your dermatologist cuts out the entire mole and below to the subcutaneous fat layer, and stitches the incision closed. The mole will then be examined for cancer cells.

You should never try mole removal yourself. The risks of infection and bad scarring are too great. And if the mole was cancerous, you may leave cancer cells behind.

About scarring

Whether it’s from surgery or a scraped knee, all wounds to your skin can leave a scar. A scar is your body’s natural way of closing the skin and healing a wound.

Sometimes, however, scarring can be abnormal, resulting in large, raised scars. A hypertrophic scar occurs when the body makes too much collagen during the healing process.

Hypertrophic scarring is more common with serious burns or other significant skin injuries, but can result from any wound.

An abnormal overgrowth of scar tissue, and one more common in darker skinned people, is known as a keloid scar.

Keloid scars tend to be much larger than hypertrophic scars. They may need laser treatments, corticosteroid injections, or other treatments to reduce their size or stop their growth. Unlike hypertrophic scars, keloids grow and extend beyond the boundary of the originally wounded skin area.

Healing time after a mole removal depends on the individual. Young people tend to heal faster than older adults. And, not surprisingly, a larger incision will take longer to close up than a smaller one. In general, expect a mole removal scar to take at least two to three weeks to heal.

Some methods to reduce scarring should be started once the wound is healed. But initial care for the wound is essential for preventing infection and giving you the best chance at minimal scarring.

Pay close attention to what your doctor or nurse say about how to care for the wound and how to change the dressing when you’re under their care.

Taking steps to avoid a noticeable scar, or at least reduce the size of a scar, may be done with a variety of treatments and preventive measures.

Before trying any of these strategies, check with your doctor first. You don’t want to risk an infection or other complication after mole removal. And you certainly don’t want to do anything that could make the scarring worse.

1. Avoid the sun

Sun can damage healthy skin, so imagine how it might affect a wound that’s healing. A fresh wound is more likely to darken and become discolored if exposed regularly to UV light.

When outside, be sure your scar is covered with a stronger sunscreen (at least SPF 30. If possible, cover the scar with sun-protective clothing. Try to do this for at least six months after the procedure.

2. Don’t stretch the scar

If your scar is on the back of your hand, for example, a lot of movement and stretching of the skin could lead to a longer healing time and a bigger scar. If your surgical scar is in a place where the skin doesn’t stretch in different directions very often (such as your shin), this may not be too much of an issue.

As much as possible, take it easy with the skin around the scar so there’s less pulling on it.

3. Keep the incision site clean and moist

Skin wounds tend to heal more fully when they’re clean and moist. Dry wounds and scars tend to take longer to heal, and they’re less likely to fade away.

A moisturizing ointment, such as petroleum jelly under a bandage may be enough to reduce scar formation while the wound is still healing. Once the scar tissue has formed, talk with your doctor about a silicone gel (Nivea, Aveeno) or silicone strips that you wear several hours a day.

You don’t need an antibiotic ointment, unless your doctor recommends its use. Using an antibiotic ointment unnecessarily could lead to complications, such as contact dermatitis or bacterial resistance.

4. Massage the scar

About two weeks after mole surgery, once your sutures are gone and the scab has disappeared, you may be able to start massaging the scar. It’s important that you don’t pull the scab off, as that can worsen scarring.

If the scab is taking longer than two weeks to fall off, continue to wait until it vanishes naturally. To massage a scar, use two fingers to rub circles on the scar and the skin around it. Then rub vertically and horizontally along the scar.

Start with light pressure and gradually increase the pressure. You don’t want it to hurt, but you do want the pressure to be enough to invigorate the skin and ensure a healthy supply of collagen is healing the skin. You can also massage lotion on top of the scar.

5. Apply pressure therapy

A special pressure dressing may be placed over the wound. It could be an elastic bandage or a type of pressure stocking or sleeve, depending on the location of the scar. It can take several months for pressure therapy to be effective. It’s not really an option for treating a scar on the face.

6. Wear a polyurethane dressing

These medical pads are moist and flexible enough to help with scar healing just about anywhere. Wearing a polyurethane dressing for about six weeks may help keep a raised scar from forming. The combination of a pressure pad and keeping the wound moist may be more effective than pressure or moisturizing alone.

7. Experiment with laser and light therapies

Laser and pulse-dye treatments are helpful for a variety of different scars. They’re typically used to make larger scars appear smaller and less noticeable. You may need only one treatment to get good results, though sometimes more than one appointment is necessary.

8. Try corticosteroid injections

Corticosteroids are hormones that reduce inflammation. They’re used to treat a variety of conditions affecting the skin, joints, and other parts of the body. Corticosteroid injections can help reduce the size and appearance of raised scars, and are commonly used on keloid scars.

There’s a risk that new scar tissue may form again, and that there may be a little discoloration at the site of the injection. Sometimes, one treatment is sufficient, but typically multiple treatments are necessary.

9. Freeze with cryosurgery

This procedure involves freezing and destroying scar tissue, which eventually minimizes its size. Other medications, such as the chemotherapy drug bleomycin, may also be injected to further reduce scar size.

Cryosurgery is usually done with larger scars, including keloid and hypertrophic scars. A single treatment can reduce the size of a scar by 50 percent.

If you’re scheduled to have a mole removal procedure, talk with your doctor about your options to minimize scarring. Share your concerns up front and ask what you can do after the procedure to help make the scar as faint and small as possible.

Some of these methods require weeks or months of effort, but the only way they will be effective is if you’re diligent about them.

If you try one method that isn’t effective, talk with your dermatologist about procedures down the road that may be useful.