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Oops! Did You Scratch Off a Mole? Here’s How to Handle It

Moles, those small, often brown spots that dot our skin, have been a subject of fascination and concern for many people. One common fear (and myth) is that scratching or picking at moles can lead to cancer. However, let’s set the record straight. 

“It’s a misconception that picking a mole off can lead to cancer,” said Samia Kadri, a family nurse practitioner with Banner Health. “While some moles can grow, change or become cancerous – and it’s important to have regular skin checks – most are benign and harmless.”

But just because most moles won’t lead to cancer doesn’t mean they’re trouble-free if you scratch or pick at them. Read on to find out what happens if you decide to take matters into your own hands.

The lowdown on moles

Moles (also known as nevi) are clusters of pigment-producing cells that give your skin its unique color. These cells are usually spread out between other skin cells in your body.

“The job of moles is to transfer pigment, called melanin, to other cells to protect our skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage,” Kadri said. “A common mole or nevus is a small growth on the skin that can be pink, tan or brown. Common moles have a distinct edge (border).”

However, as mentioned earlier, some moles can be sneaky. They may grow bigger, change color or develop funky borders. If your mole starts acting up, it’s time to play detective and get it checked out by your health care provider or a dermatologist. Kadri said early detection is key to tackling any possible skin cancer issue.

“It’s important to see a dermatologist for an initial skin check,” she said. “It’s just as important as your annual well-check exam. Once the initial check is made, the dermatologist can guide you on the timing of the next follow-up exams.”

Check out this blog to learn more about the ABCDEs of moles.

What happens when you scratch off a mole

Sure, moles can be a bit annoying sometimes. Maybe they’re in a spot where they rub against your clothes or jewelry or are just plain itchy. 

But scratching or picking at them won’t make them disappear for good. It can make things worse – like causing bleeding, scarring or even infection if you’re not careful.  “Most moles have a root that binds them to the skin,” Kadri said. “So picking them off does not remove them forever, as they are hyperpigmented lesions.”

In addition, messing with the mole makes it more difficult for your dermatologist to figure out any possible skin diseases.

What to do about a scratched-off mole

If you accidentally (or purposefully!) scratch off a mole, Kadri said to follow these steps to care for the wound:

  • Clean the area: Wash your hands and the area around the wound with mild soap and warm water to prevent infection.
  • Apply pressure: If bleeding, press down gently with a clean cloth or bandage until bleeding stops.
  • Antibiotic ointment: Apply an over-the-counter (OTC) ointment to the wound to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Cover up: Place a bandage to protect the wound.
  • Hands off: Resist the urge to pick at the scar as it heals.
  • Watch for trouble: If the spot does not heal within three to five days, follow up with your health care provider or a dermatologist. See your provider right away if you notice any signs of infection, like redness, swelling, pus and fever.

How to avoid future mishaps

Here’s how to keep your hands in check and your skin looking its best:

  • Stay distracted: If you are tempted to scratch or pick at a mole, try keeping your hands busy with activities like squeezing a stress ball, playing with a fidget toy or drawing. 
  • Trim your nails: Long nails may look fancy, but they're troublemakers when it comes to accidental skin scratches. Trim your nails short to reduce the chances of causing unintentional damage. Plus, shorter nails are easier to manage and keep clean – a win-win! 
  • Moisturize: Dry skin can make moles feel itchy, so adding lotion to the skin around the mole may help reduce the urge to scratch.
  • Get help: If you've got a mole that's bothering you, whether it's because it's constantly catching on clothing or you're not a fan of its appearance, don't hesitate to get it checked out by a health care provider. Dermatologists are skin experts and can offer valuable advice and treatment options. Depending on the situation, there might be options to have the mole removed permanently with methods like surgical excision, laser therapy or freezing (cryotherapy).
  • Sun protection: Protecting your skin from UV exposure can help prevent moles from becoming itchy or irritated. Wear sunscreen and protective clothing and seek shade when outdoors.
  • Regular skin checks: Make regular skin checks a part of your self-care routine. Just like you visit the dentist and your primary provider for regular check-ups, skin checks with a dermatologist can help ensure your skin stays healthy. This is especially important if you have a history of skin issues or lots of moles. Regular skin checks can help catch any problems early on, giving enough time for treatment and peace of mind.


Scratching off moles may not lead to cancer, but it’s a risky move that can cause more harm than good. Remember, your skin is precious, so treat it with care. If you’ve got a pesky mole that’s giving you grief, leave it to your health care provider or a Banner Health dermatologist to sort it out. Your skin will thank you.

For more skin-related tips, check out these blogs:

Dermatology Primary Care Skin Cancer