Is it a Freckle or a Mole? How do I Know?

Patients often use these terms interchangeably, but the distinction is quite important. Those cute freckles (or ephelides) are actually induced by sun exposure, causing your melanocytes (pigment-making cells) to transfer pigment to the top layers of the skin and result in a light to dark brown flat spot to appear. These can appear any time in life, typically on sun-exposed areas of the body like the face, arms, and upper body. Freckles tend to fade in the winter months and can be treated with lasers. While freckles have no known potential to transform into skin cancer, they are a sign of sun damage. We know patients with extensive freckling have a higher risk of developing skin cancers including melanoma.

Moles (or melanocytic nevi), on the other hand, begin to appear in childhood and increase in number until the third decade of life. Moles are made up of melanocytes (pigment-making cells) that group together and can appear anywhere on the skinincluding the nails and feet. We believe not only genetic, but also environmental factors (sun exposure) can influence the development of moles. Furthermore, patients with lighter skin types tend to have more moles. Moles are typically darker than freckles and do not disappear; although they do get lighter as we age. They can be round or oval with well-defined borders, range in size, and be flat or raised. It is important to look at your moles to monitor for changes or new lesions, as these could be signs of a melanoma. Your dermatologist can identify moles with a dermatoscope device and analyze the pattern to ensure it is a healthy mole.

The difference between a freckle and a mole can sometimes be difficult to discern; therefore, we encourage all of our patients to get annual skin exams! Feel free to call or text our office at (847) 459-6400 to schedule your exam.