Because of a lapse in government funding, the information on this website may not be up to date transactions submitted via the website may not be processed, and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted.

The NIH Clinical Center (the research hospital of NIH) is open. For more details about its operating status, please visit

Updates regarding government operating status and resumption of normal operations can be found at

What Does a Mole Look Like?

  • Resize font
  • Print
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Pinterest

A common mole (nevus) is a small growth on the skin that is usually pink, tan, or brown and has a distinct edge.

A dysplastic nevus is often large and does not have a round or oval shape or a distinct edge. It may have a mixture of pink, tan, or brown shades. People who have many dysplastic nevi have a greater chance than others of developing melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer. However, most dysplastic nevi do not turn into melanoma.

If the color, size, shape, or height of a mole changes or if it starts to itch, bleed, or ooze, people should tell their doctor. People should also tell their doctor if they see a new mole that doesn't look like their other moles.

The photos below show the difference between common moles and dysplastic nevi.

Photos of Moles

Common Moles Dysplastic Nevi

Common moles that are evenly tan or brown

Dysplastic nevi that are a mixture of tan, brown, and red/pink

A common mole that is round with a distinct edge

A dysplastic nevus with an irregular edge and the color fading into the skin around it

Common moles that are smooth spots on the skin


Dysplastic nevi with scaly or pebbly surfaces


A common mole is usually small. The first photo shows a common mole that is less than 5 millimeters (about 1/4 inch) wide. The second photo shows small moles on a person's back.

  Dysplastic nevi are often larger than 5 millimeters wide. The first photo shows a large dysplastic nevus. The second photo shows several large dysplastic nevi circled on a person's back.