Sometimes it’s the little things that sneak up on you. And if you’re not careful, in some instances, they can become a huge deal. Take that tiny spot on your skin you’ve been ignoring for months (or even years). Is it a sunspot, or maybe a freckle? Do you know the difference between sunspots vs freckles?
Of course, it could also be a deadly melanoma that, left untreated, could kill you. What?!
Before you get panicky, there are a few quick differentiators that might indicate when you should get a professional evaluation.
Let’s start with moles. Moles are a simply a cluster of cells called melanocytes, which are melanin-producing cells. Melanin is a substance in our body that produces pigment or color. So, when these cells group together they form something we see as a mole, which is harmless.
Most of us have about 10 to 40 moles, which can be found anywhere on their bodies, but some individuals can have more or less. They are usually raised and can range from fleshed-colored to dark brown. Sometimes we’re born with them, but many other moles develop over time.
Which turns the conversation to freckles vs sunspots. You’ll typically find these on areas of skin that are exposed to the sun, especially your face, hands and arms.
Freckles occur when the body makes too much melanin. They also tend to be part of your genetics and can run in families. Freckles are flat, small and tend to appear clustered in groups. You notice them most at a young age, and for the most part, they typically fade as you get older.
Sunspots are almost a cousin to freckles, as they also develop when your skin makes too much melanin. But they aren’t nearly as cute or endearing. Sunspots show up as a single spot and are larger than freckles. They are the result of sun exposure and usually develop later in life.
Light-skinned people are more likely to get freckles, sunspots and moles for that matter. These skin manifestations are also linked to family history along with sun exposure.
Another important thing worth noting: freckles and sunspots cannot turn into moles. The reverse is also true. But moles can turn into cancer. Which is why you need to a skin exam yearly if you have a family history of skin cancer, starting around age 35. Consider it an imperative if you have moles.
While this is no substitute for a medical diagnosis, dermatologists want you to know the ABC’s of a skin examination so you can start at home.
A- is for asymmetry. A mole that is misshapen is more problematic. So, look for symmetry.
B- is for borders. Smooth borders are ideal. Jagged borders deserve a little more scrutiny.
C- is for color. Noticeable shifts in color or different colors within the same mole, may indicate something is wrong.
(In recent years, doctors have added to the alphabet checklist with a D and E)
D- is for diameter. Looking at size, consider whether your mole has grown is size.
E- is for evolving (or changing). You are in the best position to notice if a mole has changed in any way. Ask yourself whether it has changed in color, size, shape, or anything else that seems different. Does it itch? Has it raised in thickness? Changes in a mole typically merit a closer look by a medical professional.
The good news is skin cancers, even melanoma (which is the deadliest form of skin cancer), is very treatable when caught early. With these tips, you can influence the early detection by keeping an eye on your spots.