Moles and Freckles, What’s the Difference?

Moles and Freckles, What's the Difference?

Introduction

Freckles and moles look pretty similar — they’re both small, round spots of darker-colored skin. However, freckles and moles are extremely different things. They are caused by the same compound — the pigment called melanin — but the way they are formed are very different. Let’s take a closer look at what freckles and moles are exactly!

What are freckles?

Freckles are formed when the number of melanocytes increases. Melanocytes are the cells that produce the pigment melanin, and melanin is the pigment that gives our skin color.  A greater number of melanocytes logically means there will also be a greater production of melanin,  hence darkening the skin in the form of freckles. There are two types of freckles: ephelides and solar lentigines. 

1. Ephelides 

These are the freckles that typically spring to mind for us. Ephelides are usually a genetic trait inherited from your family; they are usually found in people with a fairer complexion. Having red hair and green eyes tend to be accompanied by this genetic trait. Caucasians and Asians are more likely to have ephelides as they have lighter skin tones. Additionally, a gene called MC1R is responsible for the production of melanin by giving the melanocytes instructions for melanin production. The sort of instruction given can result in one of two types of melanin: pheomelanin and eumelanin. People whose melanocytes produce pheomelanin are often those with lighter skin tones and have red or blonde hair. Pheomelanin does not offer UV ray protection, which is why fairer skinned people tend to get sunburned more easily. On the other hand, melanin-producing people usually have darker-colored hair and darker skin tones, and they tend to have better UV protection. 

2. Solar lentigines 

This is the other type of freckles. Solar lentigines tend to be an accumulation of years of sun damage and they occur later in life. Solar lentigines often form in the areas that have been sunburnt before, and might also occur in the same areas as ephelides which is why they look similar. They are larger than ephelides and often darker in color. Their color is not affected by the winter or summer. Caucasians and people above 40 are the most likely to get solar lentigines. 

Freckles will usually appear as flat, circular spots that vary in shades and tones of browns, beige, and reds. These small dots are scattered all over the face and are more commonly found across the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Freckles, when they are ephelides, may become darker in the hotter summer months when there is more sun to be exposed to, and they may become slightly lighter during the winter season when there is less sun.

What are moles?

Moles, on the other hand, are more of a growth than the result of an overproduction of pigment. The medical term for moles is nevi. Moles are formed when there is a cluster of melanocytes, which result in a darker color. Some moles are raised while others are flat. The flat ones are usually mistaken for freckles if they appear on the facial areas. Moles are usually harmless and many people have multiple moles over their bodies. Moles come in a variety of colors, from brown to black to red and even blue and pink. They might be flat, or a bit wrinkly, and sometimes raised. You might have seen that some people have hair growing out of their moles. The majority of moles are rounded in shape, and they are less than a quarter of an inch wide. Babies sometimes are born with moles that are quite large, but these are quite uncommon. 

Moles, however, can also indicate skin cancer or melanoma, which is a complication arising from moles. Some moles have a risk of becoming cancerous. After all, cancer is an over-multiplication of cells, and moles are caused by excess melanocytes. There is an easy way to check if your mole is malignant, by following a simple checklist: 

  1. Asymmetry: If you can halve the mole or freckle and they match up, it is symmetrical. Otherwise, it is asymmetrical. Asymmetrical moles are a warning sign. 
  2. Border: If the border of the mole is uneven and bumpy, this is a potential sign of a cancerous one. If it is smooth, it is probably benign. 
  3. Color: If your moles are not a uniform color and occur in a wide range of colors, that is a sign of something more serious.
  4. Diameter: If your mole is bigger than a quarter of an inch, it is potentially cancerous. 
  5. Evolving: If the mole changes in size, shape, and degree of elevation, it is potentially malignant. 

If you notice any of the above irregularities it is probably a good idea to get a doctors’ advice and diagnosis. Some people have a higher risk of developing melanoma, including those with an abnormally large number of moles, and a family history of melanoma.

Can I get rid of moles and freckles?

Getting rid of freckles is much easier than moles because freckles mostly involve lightening the skin, while moles will require removal. To remove a mole, you must go to a doctor to get it surgically removed. The only time you will really need to remove a mole is when it is potentially cancerous, if it obstructs your daily activities, or if it’s in a place that you feel is unflattering. A doctor will either use surgical excision or surgical shave method to remove the mole. Surgical excision involves cutting out the mole then surgically stitching the area back. Surgical shave means a blade will be used to shave off the mole with no open surgery or stitches required. The doctor will test a mole for cancer either way, especially if it is large. 

For freckles, you can use topical serums or go for cosmetic procedures to reduce the look of freckles. Hydroquinone is a strong and effective prescription-grade ingredient used to reduce any kind of pigmentation and is the most effective topical product. Otherwise, you can get a series of chemical peels or microdermabrasion which will be more effective but also more costly.

Conclusion

Moles and freckles are very different, and knowing the difference will be very crucial should you notice irregularities in your spots. Always get a doctors’ second opinion if you are unsure!

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