If you have fair skin and spend any amount of time in the sun, chances are you have freckles. These benign spots are often confused with moles, which can pose a danger to your health. For this reason, it is important to learn to tell the difference between moles and freckles.
The medical term for freckles is ephelides. They are concentrations of the pigment melanin. They are always flat and tan. This is because they form on the basal layer of the epidermis, which is just another way of saying that they are on the top layer of your skin.
Freckles develop as a result of sun exposure. This means that they most often form on the body parts that see the most sun, usually your arms, shoulders, and nose. It is believed that your body forms freckles in the attempt to create a protective layer between your skin and the sun. Nobody is ever born with freckles.
Freckles are considered temporary and will fade over time, though they may never disappear completely. There are ways to have freckles removed, but there is almost never a reason to do so. They are purely superficial and pose no risks to your health. Freckles are not linked with any type of cancer. Do be aware, however, that people with fair skin are more likely to develop freckles and also more in danger of developing skin cancer. Be careful not to spend too much time in the sun, and wear protective clothing whenever you can. Always use lots of sunscreen with a high SPF.
Moles are something else altogether, however similar they may look to freckles. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin. Freckles are a concentration of this pigment. Moles are a concentration of the cells themselves. People can be born with moles. Moles can also develop over time.
Moles can be flat, tan spots that look much like freckles. But there is no such thing as a standard mole. They can be very large or quite small. They can be evenly round or irregular in shape. Moles range in color from very light to very dark. They often darken with age. Some moles are flat while others have a raised texture.
The most dangerous risk of moles is melanoma. This is a form of skin cancer where a high concentration of melanocytes forms and starts to spread. This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer because it has the ability to spread to other parts of the body.
In order to protect against melanoma, you should pay attention to any moles on your body. They can develop anywhere. Limiting your sun exposure and using protection when you are outside can help prevent new moles from forming. For moles that you were born with or that have already developed, observation is your best defense.
Many moles are completely harmless. You can go through your entire life with a mole that you had since birth and never experience and difficulties with it. If you notice that a mole is getting darker, or bigger, or developing a raised texture, however, you should report these changes to your doctor immediately. Any time a mole becomes painful you should also tell your doctor.
Just because a mole starts to change does not mean that it is cancerous. Repeated sun exposure may make a mole bigger or darker. Because sun exposure is also linked to skin cancer, it is wise to avoid this as much as possible, but many people spend lots of time out in the sun without ever developing melanoma.
Removal of Moles
If you wish to have a mole removed due to cosmetic reasons, your doctor can recommend you to a dermatologist. If there is any reason for concern, the dermatologist may send your mole to a lab for a biopsy to check for cancer.
A mole can develop on your skin or in between layers of skin. If it is on the top, it can often be shaved off with a scalpel. If it is deeper, it will have to be cut out. A deeper cut will mean a longer and more painful procedure, but removing the roots of the mole ensures that it will not grow back.
Moles can also be frozen or burnt off. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze a mole off. You may develop a blister as a result, but it will heal on its own within a short period of time. If you choose to have your mole burnt off, it may take repeated treatments in order to remove all of it.
If there is reason to believe that your mole may be cancerous, your doctor will likely want to remove more of the tissue surrounding the mole. This ensures that no cancer remains behind after the mole is gone. Incisions can be made very carefully and this procedure rarely leaves any scars.
Aside from cosmetic reasons, moles usually do not have to be removed. Moles you are born with are called congenital moles. They are more likely to develop cancer than acquired moles which you gain as a child and young adult due to sun exposure. You should be most concerned about moles that have an irregular shape and uneven coloring.
Should You Be Concerned About Your Freckles?
Freckles are never a cause for any health concerns. The majority of moles are equally benign. You should be on the lookout for changes in your moles, however, and report any differences to your doctor, just in case there is any risk of skin cancer developing.