What Do Genes and Hormones Have to Do with Moles?

by Dr Wan Chee Kwang
June 25, 2024

Moles, or nevi, are not just simple marks on your skin; they are complex manifestations influenced by genetic and hormonal factors. Understanding how your genetics and hormones play a part in the development of moles can help you treat it effectively.

In this article, we explore the nature of moles, how genes and hormones influence their growth, and the various removal options.

What are moles, and how do they form?

Moles are skin growths composed of pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes. They can grow anywhere on the skin, either alone or in groups. Most moles are benign and form during childhood and adolescence. Their development is influenced by factors like sun exposure and genetic makeup. 

Moles typically start as small, flat spots that may grow or change colour throughout your life, especially during hormone fluctuations like puberty or pregnancy.

Types of moles

Moles come in various shapes, sizes, and colours, ranging from pink or brown to black. There are several types:

  • Congenital Nevi: Present at birth, these moles can vary in size and are more likely to develop into melanoma later in life.
  • Acquired Nevi: These develop after birth and are usually benign.
  • Atypical Nevi (Dysplastic Moles): Larger than average and irregular in shape, they may have multiple colours and are more likely to become malignant.

Moles and genes

Genetics profoundly influence the number and types of moles a person may exhibit. They are largely determined by inherited traits that dictate how skin cells respond to various environmental factors. 

A person's genetic makeup can affect everything from mole pattern distribution across the body to the potential for these moles to develop into malignant melanoma.

Key genetic factors in mole development

Several gene variants impact the proliferation, size, and colour of moles:

  • MC1R Gene: This gene is best known for its role in determining skin and hair colour, as it influences the amount of melanin produced in the skin. Variants of the MC1R gene can lead to fair skin, red hair, and increased moles. More importantly, these variants are associated with an elevated risk of skin cancers, including melanoma, because they may cause skin cells to be more susceptible to UV damage.
  • P16 and CDKN2A: These genes control cell growth and division. Mutations here can cause cells, including melanocytes, to proliferate unchecked, forming numerous moles and, potentially, cancerous growths. 

Moles and hormones

Hormones significantly influence mole formation and change. During periods of hormonal shifts, such as puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, moles might become darker, larger, or more numerous due to increased melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) levels. 

Hormonal influence during key life stages

  • Puberty: The surge of hormones during adolescence triggers various physiological changes, including skin changes. Increased levels of MSH during this period can lead to the darkening of moles and possibly an increase in the number of moles. Young individuals often notice that their moles become more pronounced with puberty.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy is another period of significant hormonal fluctuation, with increased levels of oestrogen, progesterone, and MSH. These changes can make moles darker and more prominent. Some women may also develop new moles during pregnancy. These changes are usually benign, but they can sometimes make differentiating between a normal and a potentially malignant mole challenging.
  • Menopause: During menopause, the decrease in oestrogen can affect the skin and its properties. While not as common, some changes in moles can still occur during this stage, necessitating continued observation for any unusual changes.

Assessing moles for treatment

The first line of defence in assessing moles is regular self-examination. This helps you become familiar with the moles on your body and to notice any changes over time. 

Doctors can perform a more detailed examination using dermatoscopy, which provides a magnified, illuminated view of the mole. They would be able to see structures within the mole that are not apparent to the naked eye.

Mole removal treatment options

Several professional and effective mole removal options are available:

  • Co2 Laser: Laser mole removal involves concentrated carbon dioxide lasers that vaporise the mole tissue, which is useful for superficial moles.
  • RF Ablation: Radiofrequency ablation employs radio waves to heat and dissolve mole cells without significant damage to the surrounding skin.
  • Pigment Laser: Specifically targets the melanin within moles, breaking it down to be absorbed by the body, which is ideal for dark but shallow moles.
  • Surgery: Surgical excision is used for deeper or suspicious moles to ensure complete removal and enable histopathological examination.
  • Microsurgery: Microsurgery is an advanced technique in which specialised instruments and magnification tools are used for meticulous dissection and removal of moles. This precision can help minimise damage to surrounding tissues.
  • Combination lasers: For enhanced results, laser treatments can be combined. The Co2 laser, for instance, can first be used for precise vaporisation of only mole cells, before the pigment laser is used to target pigmented mole cells.

Looking for mole removal treatment in Singapore?

While moles are common skin growths, genetic and hormonal factors largely influence their appearance and behaviour. If you're considering mole removal, discussing your options with a specialist is an important step towards safe and satisfactory outcomes.

1Aesthetics emphasises the importance of choosing the right mole removal method on the first attempt to prevent recurrence. Each technique has its advantages, and the best one for you depends on your goals. For moles typically removed via surgery, we may use a combination of treatments to lower the chances of recurrence while preserving as much surrounding skin as possible to minimise scarring. 

Consult 1Aesthetics for mole removal and its price.

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