Is It a Mole or a Freckle? When To Worry

The other day I noticed a strange mark on my skin that didn’t look like a regular freckle. Naturally, I was intrigued and (if I’m being honest) a little scared. My mind took me away to all sorts of undesirable scenarios, including the scary “c” word. Fortunately, skin cancer is usually highly treatable when it’s caught early, but it’s still a diagnosis no one wants to receive.

I went into “sleuth” mode and started researching moles and freckles on the internet. Though I’m not technically an expert on the subject, I’m pretty confident that my hours of research yielded some useful information. Here’s what I learned about the differences between moles and freckles, and when you should start to worry about a strange mark on your skin.

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How To Identify a Mole

Moles are quite common, and are typically nothing to be worried about. They form when skin cells called melanocytes grow in a cluster rather than spreading outward. Moles usually form during the first 25 years of your life, but they can form after that as well. Most adults have between 10 and 40 moles. Who knew?
It’s normal for moles to grow a little bit over the years. They may even develop one or more hairs (unfortunately!). It’s normal for moles to become darker during pregnancy, during teenage years, or after prolonged exposure to the sun. Other moles may actually get smaller or even disappear during your lifetime. Some people have moles that grow in groups, while others have moles that grow in isolation on different parts of the body. Moles may bleed when nicked while shaving, but most don’t cause any pain on a regular basis.

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How To Identify a Freckle

A freckle is a cluster of pigment cells in the skin. Like moles, freckles often become darker after sun exposure. But unlike moles, freckles are completely flat, which means you can’t feel them when you run your finger across them.
Freckles can come in different colors, but they are usually light-brown or tan spots on the skin. They’re especially common in red-headed people and those with light complexions. Freckles are generally harmless, and I actually think they’re quite charming! The only time to worry about a freckle is if it starts to exhibit strange growth patterns, which I’ll talk about in the next section.


Signs You Should Start To Worry

In most cases, freckles and moles are completely harmless. However, it’s important to keep an eye on them and watch for any strange changes. Use the “ABCDE” rule to figure out if you should worry about a freckle, mole or other skin spot.

  • A (Asymmetry): Most moles and freckles are symmetrical. If you notice that half of a mole or freckle looks different from the other half, it’s time to see a doctor or dermatologist.
  • B (Border): Look at the border of the freckle or mole you’re concerned about. If it looks jagged, blurry or irregular, it’s time to worry.
  • C (Color): Most moles and freckles are a solid color. If you have one or more that are colorful, it’s generally a sign of a problem. Look for spots that are different shades of black, brown, red, pink or even blue.
  • D (Diameter): Most melanomas are larger than 6mm across (about ¼ inch). If you have a freckle or mole that is this large, have it checked out right away. Keep in mind that some melanomas can be smaller, which is why you need to watch out for the other indications of melanoma as well.
  • E (Evolving): If you have a freckle or mole that changes noticeably in color, size or shape, see your doctor asap.

Other warning signs include bleeding, oozing or lumpiness in a mole or other skin spot. You’ll also want to pay close attention to a skin sore that never heals. These are common indications of melanoma and should be addressed immediately.

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