Freckles and Moles: When to see your dermatologist
Everyone has moles on their skin. On average, most people have at least 10, but less than 40 moles. A mole can appear anywhere on your body, and most moles appear by age 20. How many moles you have and the pattern that they’re in is largely determined by genetics, but environmental factors such as the sun can play a part.
Moles come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Depending on its appearance and when it developed, a mole can be classified as one of the following types:
- Congenital moles. When a mole is present at birth, it is called a congenital mole, or congenital nevus. About 1 percent of people have congenital moles, and these moles may be at increased risk of turning into skin cancer.
- Acquired moles. Acquired moles account for most moles and usually develop during childhood or early adulthood. These moles are usually smaller than a quarter inch, and are thought to be due to excessive sun exposure. Most acquired moles will not develop into skin cancer.
- Atypical moles. Atypical moles (also known as dysplastic nevi) are larger than a pencil eraser and shaped irregularly. These moles are usually uneven in color, with a dark brown center. The borders of atypical moles may be irregular, with a lighter or reddish color, and unevenness or black dots around the edge. Atypical moles tend to run in families and they may be at increased risk of developing into skin cancer.
Most moles are generally harmless, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them and see a doctor if anything changes. Keep a look out for the following:
- A – Asymmetry: Draw a line through the middle. If the halves don’t match, it’s asymmetrical.
- B – Border: Borders of cancerous moles tend to be uneven, notched, or bumpy.
- C – Color: A variety of colors in a mole is a warning sign.
- D – Diameter: A mole bigger than 1/4 inch (a pencil tip) may be cancerous.
- E – Evolving: Report any change in size, shape, color, or elevation to your doctor.
Freckles are small brown spots on your skin, often in areas that get sun exposure. In most cases, freckles are harmless. They form as a result of overproduction of melanin, which is responsible for skin and hair color (pigmentation). Overall, freckles come from ultraviolet (UV) radiation stimulation.
There are two categories of freckles: ephelides and solar lentigines. Ephelides are the common type most people think of as freckles. Solar lentigines are dark patches of skin that develop during adulthood. This includes freckles, aging spots, and sunspots. The two types of freckles can look similar but differ in other ways such as their development.
Keep an eye on your freckles the same way you keep an eye on your moles, following the ABCDE rule.
As long as you keep a check on your moles and freckles and know your body you should be able to alert your doctor early enough should anything be wrong.