Cutting, freezing, lasering – we put Dr Ross Perry, founder of Cosmedics Skin Clinics, on the spot about the beauty of mole removal
From the individuals extracting earwax from your eardrum to the quiet crusaders shaving skin off your feet, in our regular series The Professionals we meet the people taking pride in the nitty-gritty side of beauty.
What do moles mean to you? For some people, that dark cluster of cells is admirable and better known as a beauty spot, especially when they pop up around an upper lip line. The story of Cindy Crawford and her million-dollar mole, which she decided not to remove after being bullied about it as a child, is well-known, while Eva Mendes and Jennifer Lawrence are other so-called beauties keeping their moles out in the open.
Back in the 18th century, Marie Antoinette drew hers on which caught on in the French court and they can be recreated now with a quick prick of an eye pencil or a Monroe piercing. Others believe that reading moles can reveal a person’s future or personality. A surviving ancient Greek tract often attributed to Melampus is considered a manual for moleosophy- assigning qualities and life moments according to the mole’s placement, size, and shape. This practise continues in modern-day Indian and Chinese culture, with helpful face diagrams and in-depth explanations on the internet to help you decode moles on your own.
On the flip side, agent Number 3’s mole arguably stole the show in Austin Powers in Goldmember. No mean feat given that Beyoncé also starred as disco-dancing diva/special agent Foxxy Cleopatra, but that brown, hairy spot on the mole’s (extra irony) face was mercilessly mocked by Austin Powers and Dr Evil throughout. Why? Because it was perceived to be unsightly and ugly.
In the 17 years since that blockbuster, we’ve been much better educated about the skin cancer risks of moles, helping to justify a 197 per cent rise in mole removal enquiries worldwide according to WhatClinic.com stats. But as the mole’s negative connotations linger on, so has the urge to remove them for purely cosmetic reasons rather than medical ones. “I didn’t object to it. I just didn’t care for it,” Sarah Jessica Parker told David Letterman in 2017 after having her own mole removed.
For doctors specialising in mole removal, there’s no judgement on a patient’s reasons for doing it. Their ultimate goal is to remove the mole with minimal scarring. How minimal depends on the technique(s) used – they can be lasered, frozen and/or cut off – and that individual doctor’s skillset. We put Cosmedics Skin Clinics founder Dr Ross Perry on the spot for more information.
What’s the difference between a mole, a freckle and a beauty spot?
Dr Ross Perry: Moles tend to be raised or flat and can be colourless or coloured, whereas a freckle is lightly coloured brown that sits on the surface of the skin. A beauty spot is dark coloured cells that are deep in the skin. All have the potential to change into something more sinister so they need to be monitored for obvious changes in colour, size, and shape.
Can you tell us a bit about what mole removal is?
Dr Ross Perry: After the correct diagnosis of the skin lesion is made, most mole removals involve using a local anaesthetic to numb the skin so it’s pain-free. The mole is then removed by whatever means is deemed best – laser, surgery, freezing or a combination of all three.
Who is it for?
Dr Ross Perry: Anyone who wants a mole removed for cosmetic reasons or is worried about it. Everyone has their own personal reasons: most find them unsightly or their children start to point them out. They can often be concerned that they are changing so they want peace of mind by getting rid of them.
What’s the process?
Dr Ross Perry: The surgery or laser normally only takes 20-30 minutes, so it’s over very quickly. Patients walk in, walk out and go back to their normal daily routine. Occasionally there may be stitches that need removing five to ten days later. The moles are normally covered with dressings and kept clean until they heal over a week or so.
Talk us through the different types of moles and how they’re removed?
Dr Ross Perry: Flat moles can be removed by laser or surgical excision with stitches, while raised moles are often removed by a combination of shave excision and laser. Shave excision and laser heal like a graze over seven to ten days. It’s quick, simple and patients love the results, having been told often incorrectly by their doctor that it will be worse.
“I like the artistic side of removing moles and doing the best for the patient using my own dexterity to hopefully maximise the outcome” – Dr Ross Perry
Why do you think it’s become more common over the years?
Dr Ross Perry: People are more conscious of moles and, particularly on the face or on the body, moles that are unsightly can now be removed with minimal scarring. Also with the ‘selfie generation’, people are more conscious of their appearance and want to look as good as they can. All mole removal carries certain risks such as a scar that often fades with time but also, rarely, a small infection.
How has the practise evolved over time?
Dr Ross Perry: Techniques have improved with the advent of lasers and more accurate surgical equipment meaning quicker healing times and better results.
What inspired you to get into mole removal in the first place?
Dr Ross Perry: After medical school, having trained in skin surgery and treating skin cancer patients; there was a need for patients who also wanted great results with cosmetic moles removal and minimal scarring. I’ve even practised abroad and have been on many conferences to keep at the forefront of this field. I also like the artistic side of removing moles and doing the best for the patient using my own dexterity to hopefully maximise the outcome.
Do you have a signature technique?
Dr Ross Perry: Not really, I just apply what I feel is the best combination to each mole and person I see. It can depend on the person's skin type, age, and what result they are looking for. I would say my shave excision (cutting off the mole with a sharp razor) is my favourite as I can often add in laser and even freezing sometimes to optimise removal of colour and reduce scarring.
Which type of mole removal do you enjoy doing the most?
Dr Ross Perry: Ellipse excision with stitches (where the scar runs parallel with existing skin creases) as real skill is involved. Larger moles that have been present since birth are often very ugly, large, and hairy with the only option for removal being surgical excision. Even though patients know they are being left with a large scar, they are prepared to have them removed. If I operate then I am fairly confident the outcome will be better than the initial lesion.
In what instances would you refuse to remove a mole and why?
Dr Ross Perry: If the patient has unrealistic expectations and insists they want no scar as that just not possible.
What’s been your most memorable experience removing moles?
Dr Ross Perry: Removing a patient's moles who hadn’t been swimming with his children in five years as he was embarrassed by them. It took me about two hours to remove the majority of them. He then emailed about two months later to thank me as he had just been swimming with his children on holiday and it had changed his life.
What are the biggest misconnections about mole removal?
Dr Ross Perry: That it’s painful and leaves awful scars. I am just honest and tell them exactly as it is and that seems to be sufficient for patients to be happy to remove them. They are often surprised it is simpler and easier than I say and much quicker.
Moles are beautiful to some while others cover them up and get them removed, what’s your stance?
Dr Ross Perry: I leave each individual to make their own mind up and I am here if they want them removed. If I feel they will look better without a mole I will tell them however it is ultimately their decision.
Do celebrities, models and beauty trends influence mole removal rates in any way?
Dr Ross Perry: Only in that the perception of great skin is to have no blemishes and have magazine quality skin. I can tell you it does not exist.