Because moles are common, you might not give much thought to those on your skin until you have a painful mole.

Here’s what you need to know about painful moles, including when to see a doctor.

Moles are common, with many people having as many as 10 to 40 moles, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Different types of skin moles include:

  • Congenital moles. These are there when you’re born.
  • Acquired moles. These are moles that appear on your skin any time after birth.
  • Typical moles. Normal or typical moles can be either flat or elevated and circular in shape.
  • Atypical moles. These may be larger than a normal mole and asymmetrical.

Even though pain can be a symptom of cancer, many cancerous moles don’t cause pain. So cancer isn’t a likely cause for a mole that’s sore or tender.

Pimple underneath

You may have pain if a pimple forms underneath a mole. The mole prevents the pimple from reaching your skin’s surface. This blockage can trigger minor soreness or pain until the pimple goes away.

Keep in mind that skin moles vary considerably. Some moles are small and flat, whereas others are larger, raised, or hairy.

Ingrown hair

A hairy mole can get an ingrown hair, which can lead to irritation and inflammation around the mole. This can cause redness and pain at the slightest touch.

Ingrown hairs heal on their own, although you may need a topical antibiotic if a hair follicle becomes infected.

Friction

A flat mole may go unnoticed and not cause any problems. But there’s the risk of injury with a raised or elevated mole.

Depending on the location of a raised mole, clothing and jewelry may repeatedly rub against the mole and cause soreness or irritation. Or, you may accidentally scratch a raised mole. This can also cause pain, and even bleeding.

Infected scratch or small injury

An infection may develop if you scratch a mole and bacteria gets into your skin. Signs of a skin infection include bleeding, swelling, pain, and fever.

In rare cases, melanoma

Even though a painful mole can have a non-cancerous cause, some melanomas are accompanied by pain and soreness.

Melanoma is a very rare form of skin cancer, but also the most dangerous form.

Check for these changes

See a doctor for mole pain that doesn’t go away after a few days or a week. A skin check is especially important when an acquired or atypical mole changes shape, size, color, or becomes painful.

It’s rare, but an acquired mole can change into melanoma. Three types of acquired moles include:

  • Junctional melanocytic nevi. Located on the face, arms, legs, and trunk, these moles appear as flat freckles or light spots on the skin. They can become raised in adulthood, and sometimes disappear with age.
  • Intradermal nevi. These are flesh-colored, dome-shaped lesions that form on the skin.
  • Compound nevi. These raised atypical moles feature a uniform pigmentation.

You should also see a doctor for any new skin growths — including moles — to rule out skin cancer.

A painful mole with non-cancerous causes will likely heal on its own, and you probably don’t need a doctor. Self-care measures alone can stop pain and irritation.

Treat scrapes or other minor injuries

  • Rinse. If you scratch or injure a mole, wash the mole and surrounding skin with warm, soapy water. Towel dry the area and apply a topical antibiotic cream to help prevent an infection and reduce inflammation.
  • Apply an antibiotic. These creams are available over-the-counter and include Neosporin and similar brands. Repeat daily and keep the mole covered with gauze or a bandage to prevent further injury.

If you repeatedly injure a raised mole, you can discuss removal with a dermatologist.

Wait it out and keep clean if it’s a pimple

When a pimple forms underneath a mole, pain and irritation will go away once the pimple clears up. To help the pimple clear-up, practice good skin care habits to reduce new breakouts.

For example:

  • Use oil-free skin care products that won’t clog your pores.
  • Take a shower and remove sweaty clothes after exercising.
  • Use a body wash with acne-fighting ingredients, such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
  • Wash the area with a mild cleanser.

Melanoma accounts for about 1 percent of all skin cancer, but it has the highest rate of skin cancer death. So it’s important that you know how to recognize this cancer and other skin cancers.

Melanoma signs

Signs and symptoms of melanoma include a new mole or growth on the skin. This mole may have an irregular shape, uneven shade, and may be larger than the size of a pencil eraser.

A mole that changes in texture, shape, or size can also indicate melanoma.

Other symptoms include:

  • redness that extends outside the border of a mole
  • itchiness
  • pain
  • bleeding from an existing mole

Basal cell carcinoma signs

Other types of skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These types of skin cancers don’t develop from a mole. They grow slowly and don’t usually metastasize, but can be life-threatening, too.

Symptoms of basal cell carcinomas include a pink, waxy skin lesion without a defined border.

Squamous cell carcinoma signs

Signs of squamous cell carcinomas include a wart-like red patch on the skin with an irregular border and an open sore.

Don’t believe common skin cancer myths. But do keep a few things in mind:

  • Regularly use sunscreen, clothing, and other sunblockers. To protect yourself from skin cancer, apply sunscreen correctly and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 or higher. These sunscreens help protect against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Ultraviolet light can damage skin regardless of the source. Some people feel that tanning beds are safer than the sun’s UV rays. But ultraviolet light emitted by a tanning bed can also damage the skin, leading to premature wrinkles and sunspots.
  • You can get skin cancer regardless of how light or dark your skin is. Some people think that only fair skinned people can get skin cancer. This is also false. People with dark skin have a lower risk, but they also experience sun damage and skin cancer and need to protect their skin, too.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist if a painful mole doesn’t improve after a week. You should also see a doctor if you have a new skin growth or signs such as:

  • asymmetrical shape
  • uneven borders
  • varied, irregular color
  • a mole that’s larger than the size of a pencil eraser
  • a mole that changes in shape, size, or texture

A painful mole can have non-cancer-related causes and heal on its own with self-care. But while melanoma isn’t a likely cause of this pain, it is possible. See a doctor for pain that doesn’t improve or worsens. Melanoma is treatable if caught early.