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Freckles and moles

freckle; mole; skin; cancer; melanin; pigment; naevus; naevi; melanoma;

Freckles are small flat spots on the skin that are about the size of a pin head. Freckles appear on skin that has been exposed to the sun.  Moles are usually present soon after birth, and they tend to get larger and darker as the person gets older.

Contents

What are freckles?

  • Freckles are small flat spots on the skin that are about the size of a pin head. Sometimes they merge together to make a larger spot.
  • Freckles appear on skin that has been exposed to the sun.
  • When you touch the skin you cannot feel a freckle (unlike moles).
  • They are caused by a group of cells in the skin making more melanin (a dark pigment) than surrounding cells.
  • Freckles vary in colour – they may be red, yellow, tan, light brown or dark brown.
  • People who have fair skin are more likely than others to get freckles. People with red hair, for example, are more likely to get a lot of freckles.
  • How many freckles you get depends on the skin type you have inherited. Some families get only a few or no freckles, while members of other families may get hundreds.
  • People are not born with freckles, they only develop after a person has been exposed to sunlight.

There are two types of freckles:

  • One type appears when the skin is exposed to sun in summer, and this type fades during winter months.
  • The other type does not fade. These freckles tend to be darker than the freckles that fade.

Are freckles a health problem?

  • Freckles do not turn into skin cancers, but they do indicate that the skin is being exposed to the sun, and that sun damage may be happening.
  • People who get freckles are more likely to develop skin cancers, so freckles should be a warning to take good care of the skin.

Preventing freckles

  • Since freckles appear on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, good skin protection with shade (eg. wearing a hat and a long sleeved top) and using sunscreen will help prevent freckles from appearing.

Making freckles go away

  • Children and teenagers need to know that freckles are not ugly, and they will not prevent other people from liking them.
  • Freckles usually only seem to be a problem for the person who has them, although some people are teased because of their freckles, which is very unfair. They did not choose to have the skin type that they were born with, and it is not easy to fully prevent themselves from having freckles.
  • Protecting your skin from freckles is better than trying to get rid of the ones that you have.
  • There are some treatments that claim to fade freckles, but always talk to your doctor or chemist before you try any of them. They may irritate the skin, making it red and tender.

Moles

  • Moles are also caused by a group of cells in the skin making more melanin than the surrounding cells.
  • A mole is also called a naevus (or naevi if there are more than one mole).
  • Moles are usually present soon after birth, and they tend to get larger and darker as the person gets older.
  • Moles can develop anywhere on the skin (not only where the skin is exposed to sunlight). Most moles are on the body, although some develop on the face, arms and legs, or even on the scalp or other parts of the body.
  • Most moles are small (between 3 and 10 millimetres across). Many are round or oval in shape. Some are flat, but they can be raised above the surrounding skin and you are often able to feel a mole when you touch it (unlike freckles).
  • Over time many moles do change, eg. get larger or become darker. Often moles change during the teen years.
  • Most people have some moles, but some people have many of them. New moles can develop at any age, but most come before a person is about 20 years old. Some moles go away by themselves.
  • Some moles have hair growing through them.

Are moles a health problem?

  • Moles do not usually need treatment.
  • Occasionally a skin cancer (melanoma) develops in or near to a mole, but most people with moles do not develop melanomas. Melanomas can also develop in places where there have not been moles.
  • If a mole starts to change its size, shape or colour, becomes itchy or starts to bleed, you should have the mole checked by your doctor.
  • Since a person usually cannot see all of their moles (often moles are on a person's back) it would probably be a good idea to ask your doctor about having regular checks of the moles.

Removing moles

  • Usually moles are only removed if they are 'unsightly', for example they are on the face and the person does not want the mole. A mole in the beard area might be removed if it is interfering with shaving.
  • Moles can be cut out, but there will be a scar. The scar may be very small if the mole was small.
  • Your doctor may recommend that a large mole be removed if there seems to be a risk of the mole becoming a cancer.

References and further reading

MayoClinic.com 'Moles'
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/moles/DS00121  

National Cancer Institute (USA)
http://www.cancer.gov

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

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