What are freckles?
Freckles are small, brown spots on your skin, usually in areas exposed to the sun. In most cases, freckles are harmless. They are formed due to overproduction of melanin, which is responsible for the color of the skin and hair (pigmentation). Overall, freckles come from stimulation with ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
There are two kind of freckles: ephelids and solar lentigines. Ephelids are the usual type that most people think of as freckles. Solar lentigines are dark spots on the skin that develop in adulthood. This includes freckles, age spots, and sun spots. The two types of freckles may look similar but differ in other aspects such as their development.
How do you get freckles?
Ephelids: These freckles form as a result of sun exposure and sunburn. They can appear on anyone who does not protect themselves from UV rays. They appear on your face, the backs of your hands, and your upper body. This type tends to be most common in people with lighter skin and hair color. People of Asian and Caucasian descent are more susceptible to ephelids.
Solar letigins: Like ephelids, this type tends to appear in Caucasians and adults over 40.
What increases your chances of getting freckles?
The credit for freckles goes both to genetics and to the natural environment. Your risk of burns may increase the incidence of freckles.
In a study of 523 middle-aged French women, two things anticipated the presence of freckles: frequent sunburn and a gene known as MC1R, which provides instructions for making melanin. But the gene does not affect all people in the same way. There are two form of melanin: pheomelanin and eumelanin.
People whose skin produces pheomalanin are not protected from UV rays and tend to have:
- red or blonde hair
- clear skin
- skin that tans badly
People with more eumelanin tend to be protected from UV skin damage and have:
- brown or black hair
- darker skin
- skin that tans easily
For solar lentigines, the French study also found that various dissimilar factors increased the likelihood, including:
- dark skin
- the ability to sunbathe
- a story of freckles
- Sun exposure
- hormonal treatment, such as oral birth control
What is the difference between freckles and moles?
Moles are not the same as freckles. These are still skin lesions but are often darker and not necessarily connected with sun exposure. Like ephelids, moles are more common in people with fair skin.
A mole is made up of an excess of pigment cells with an above-average supply of blood vessels. It is normally present at birth or soon after.
Moles can take on a wide form of appearances. The color can range from brown to pink and can take different shapes. In a young person, a harmless mole will keep pace with a person’s growth.
Should I consult doctor for my freckles or moles?
Freckles and moles in themselves are not a threat. But moles may suggest an increased risk of melanoma or malignant skin cancer.
Get a self-exam to check your freckles and moles:
- A – Asymmetry: Draw a line in the middle. If the halves don’t match, it’s asymmetrical.
- B – Border: The borders of cancerous moles tend to be uneven, notched, or bumpy.
- C – Color: A variation of colors in a mole is a warning sign.
- D – Diameter: A mole larger than 1/4 inch (a pencil point) can be cancerous.
- E – Evolving: Report any change in size, shape, color or elevation to your doctor.
Make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist if your freckles, moles or sun spots meet one or more of the above criteria.
If you are worried about your freckles and do not yet have a dermatologist, you can consult doctors in your area.
Moles can increase the risk of skin cancer
The risk of melanoma increases with the count of moles. A person with 11 to 25 moles may have a 1.6 times higher risk of melanoma. This can be up to 100 times higher for a person with 100 or more moles.
Other risks of melanoma include:
- have fair skin
- red hair and blue eyes
- a history of skin cancer other than melanoma
- a history of excessive tanning or sun exposure
In one analysis, the risk of melanoma for white populations was approximately 32 and 20 times higher than that of people with darker skin. An annual screening is a good idea if you fall into one of the risk categories or if you develop a new mole.