What are freckles?
Freckles are small brown spots on your skin, often in areas that get sun exposure. In most cases, freckles are harmless. They form as a result of overproduction of melanin, which is responsible for skin and hair color (pigmentation). Overall, freckles come from ultraviolet (UV) radiation stimulation.
There are two categories of freckles: ephelides and solar lentigines. Ephelides are the common type most people think of as freckles. Solar lentigines are dark patches of skin that develop during adulthood. This includes freckles, aging spots, and sunspots. The two types of freckles can look similar but differ in other ways such as their development.
Ephelides: These freckles form as a result of sun exposure and sunburns. They can appear on anyone who doesn’t protect themselves from UV rays. They show up on your face, the back of your hands, and upper body. This type tends to be most common amongst people with lighter skin tones and hair color. People of Caucasian and Asian descent are more prone to ephelides.
Solar letigines: Like ephelides, this type tends to appear in Caucasians and adults over 40 years old.
(Video) Freckles! Does SPF and Retinol Fade Them?
The credit for freckles goes to both the natural environment and genetics. Your risk for burning can increase the incidence of freckles.
People whose skin produces pheomalanin aren’t protected from UV radiation and tend to have:
- red or blonde hair
- light skin
- skin that tans poorly
People with more eumelanin tend to be protected from skin damage by UV and have:
- brown or black hair
- darker skin
- skin that tans easily
For solar lentigines, the French study also found that several different factors increased the likelihood, including:
- dark skin
- the capacity to tan
- a history of freckles
- sun exposure
- hormone treatment, such as oral birth control
All freckles fall into the ephelides and solar lentigines category, although freckles and sun spots can differ. Solar lentigines include sunspots, which can sometimes be scaly.
|Origin||sun exposure and genetic makeup||primarily result of sun exposure|
|Appearance||first visible at 2 to 3 years of age after sun exposure and fade with age||accumulate with age, especially after the age of 40, unlikely to fade|
|Areas affected||appear on the face, neck, chest, and arms||most common in sun-exposed skin, face, hands, forearms, chest, back, and shins|
|Sun exposure||appear mostly in the summer, fade during winter||do not change with the season|
|Size||1 to 2 millimeters, though they can be larger||2 millimeters or larger|
|Border (edge of skin lesion)||irregular and well-defined||commonly well-defined|
|Color||red to light brown||light yellow to dark brown|
Moles are not the same as freckles. They are still skin lesions but are often darker and not necessarily associated with sun exposure. Like ephelides though, moles are more common among light-skinned people.
A mole is made of an excess of pigment-forming cells with a greater than average supply of blood vessels. It’s normally present at or soon after birth.
Moles can take on a wide variety of appearances. The color can range from brown to pink and can assume different shapes. On a young person, a harmless mole will keep pace with a person’s growth.
Freckles and moles by themselves pose no threat. But moles can suggest an increased risk for melanoma, or malignant skin cancer.
Do a self-exam to check your freckles and moles for:
- A – Asymmetry: Draw a line through the middle. If the halves don’t match, it’s asymmetrical.
- B – Border: Borders of cancerous moles tend to be uneven, notched, or bumpy.
- C – Color: A variety of colors in a mole is a warning sign.
- D – Diameter: A mole bigger than 1/4 inch (a pencil tip) may be cancerous.
- E – Evolving: Report any change in size, shape, color, or elevation to your doctor.
Make an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist if your freckles, moles, or sunspots display one or more of the above criteria.
If you’re concerned about your freckles and don’t already have a dermatologist, you can view doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
Moles can increase risk for skin cancer
The risk of melanoma increases with the number of moles. Someone with 11-25 moles can have a
Other risks for melanoma include:
- having fair skin
- red hair and blue eyes
- a history of non-melanoma skin cancer
- a history of excessive tanning or sun exposure
In one analysis, the risk of melanoma for white populations was approximately
For people who want to avoid freckles, prevention is key. It’s also possible to prevent freckles while speeding up their disappearance. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on your skin. Wait 15 minutes before heading outdoors for full protection. Do this every day, even in the winter, to prevent further pigmentation.
“You really can’t freckle unless you’ve had sun exposure,” explains Dee Anna Glaser, MD, chair of the department of dermatology at St. Louis University. “Even if you inherit that tendency, if your mom and dad were the most amazing sunscreen advocates and kept you out of the sun, you probably still wouldn’t freckle.”
One study reported good results for lightening freckles and skin pigmentation with products such as:
- alpha hydroxyl acids (8% AHA toner)
- Trichloracetic acid (TCA)
- acid peels
You can purchase acid and chemical peels online. The study above reports Jessner Solution as a potential treatment for freckles. Always patch-test to avoid skin irritation, if you are using a facial peel at home. Wash off the peel immediately if your skin starts to burn and do not leave on for longer than instructed.
Dr. Glaser suggests laser therapy to lighten or remove freckles. “Some fractionated resurfacing lasers can work beautifully not only on the face, but on the chest, or up on the upper shoulders. Another popular target for these lasers is freckles on legs above the knees, where people get sun exposure from boating and similar activities.”
The fractionated lasers resurface by targeting the water that’s inside the skin’s layers. It drills through the layers until it reaches that middle layer of the dermis. This causes the old epidermal pigmented cells to be expelled, and the reaction leads to collagen remodeling and new collagen formation.
By comparison, sunspots don’t generally fade with less sun exposure. Instead, they can be treated with:
- retinoid creams
- chemical peels
- laser therapy
There other lasers that target skin pigments. Instead of going through layers of skin, these laser target and destroy the pigmented areas. The pigment-specific lasers work well on sun spots.
Read more: How do mole removals work? »
Freckles and moles almost always are harmless, but may suggest an increased risk of skin cancer. Knowing your risk and particulars of the ABCDE rubric for assessing changes in skin pigmentation will help with identifying any freckles or moles that may be dangerous. Talk to your doctor about your freckles, moles, or sun spots. They’ll be able to help identify spots for you to monitor closely.
Keep reading: How to get rid of freckles »
A mole or freckle should be checked if it has a diameter of more than a pencil eraser or any characteristics of the ABCDEs of melanoma (see below). Dysplastic nevi are moles that are generally larger than average (larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape.Are freckles a health concern? ›
Freckles are extremely common and aren't a health threat. They're more often seen in the summer. You're more likely to have freckles if you're lighter-skinned and have blond or red hair. However, freckles can occur in anyone, and appear as darker brown spots if you have darker skin.Why am I suddenly getting so many freckles? ›
Genetics and sun exposure are the primary causes of freckles. Some people are more likely to get freckles than others, depending on their genes and skin type. If a person is genetically more likely to develop freckles, exposure to sunlight can make them appear.What can be mistaken for freckles? ›
Lentigo simplex spots may occasionally be mistaken for freckles. However, unlike freckles, lentigo simplex spots don't change color when exposed to sunlight. They also aren't generally found in clusters.Can melanoma look like a freckle? ›
Melanoma is a skin cancer that can show up on the skin in many ways. It can look like a: Changing mole. Spot that looks like a new mole, freckle, or age spot, but it looks different from the others on your skin.Why am I getting more freckles as I get older? ›
Age spots, also called sun spots, freckles or solar lentigines, occur as a response to sun exposure over time. They are collectively given the name “age spots” because they are visible when one is in one's 40s or older. Age spots are dark permanent areas that do not fade away with time or with a change in season.How do you know if a freckle is precancerous? ›
- Asymmetry. A common mole is typically symmetrical. ...
- Border. The borders of precancerous moles are often blurred. ...
- Color. Whereas a common mole is one color, a precancerous mole is often a mixture of various colors like brown, black, red, or blue.
- Diameter. ...
The first sign of a melanoma is usually an unusual or funny-looking mole or freckle. Look out for: Change in the colour, shape or size of a spot. A spot that is itchy, painful or tender.What do freckles represent? ›
“A freckle represents extra pigment, or melanin, that's in the skin,” Graber said. A freckle can be found anywhere on the body, but Graber says they are most commonly found on the face. And although a freckle may just look like a mole that hasn't risen yet, the two are distinctly different, according to Graber.What does cancerous moles look like? ›
Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen. Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch).
How long can you have melanoma and not know it? It depends on the type of melanoma. For example, nodular melanoma grows rapidly over a matter of weeks, while a radial melanoma can slowly spread over the span of a decade. Like a cavity, a melanoma may grow for years before producing any significant symptoms.What triggers freckles? ›
The colour of freckles is caused by a pigment called melanin. The more time you spend in the sun, the more melanin is produced, which is why you might notice more skin freckles after being outside on a sunny day.Is it normal to keep getting new freckles? ›
You have them because of the genes you were born with. Freckles often show up during childhood, and you may continue to get more until you're in your 20s. People with fair skin or red hair are most likely to have them.Can freckles appear without sun exposure? ›
Although freckles are hereditary, they are activated by sun exposure. If someone that has the freckle gene (MC1R), they must spend time in the sun in order to produce freckles. A person without the freckles genes will not produce freckles regardless of if they are in the sun or not.What are the warning signs of melanoma? ›
The first sign of melanoma is often a mole that changes size, shape or color. This melanoma shows color variations and an irregular border, both of which are melanoma warning signs. Melanomas can develop anywhere on your body.What is the difference between a freckle and a lentigo? ›
Freckles do not have defined edges and can become more vivid after exposure to sunlight. Lentigines, on the other hand, are caused by a proliferation of melanocytes that is localized and not dispersed. The group of melanocytes causes more of a spot-like appearance with defined edges.What are the little brown dots on my body? ›
Age spots are also called sunspots, liver spots and solar lentigines. Age spots are very common in adults older than 50, but younger people can get them if they spend time in the sun.Can a freckle be cancerous? ›
Normal moles, freckles, skin tags and lentigines are not skin cancers and they aren't considered to be pre-cancerous. Moles don't tend to “turn into” skin cancers. People with many moles (more than 100) have a higher risk of developing melanoma during their lifetime.Should I be worried about new freckles? ›
No, freckles probably aren't an indication of health.
While it's true vitamin D from the sun can be good for your body, freckles (those that pop when you're in the sun and aren't present all year-round) are a lot like a tan. They may look healthy, but they're actually a sign of too much sun exposure.
The most common type of melanoma usually appears as a flat or barely raised lesion with irregular edges and different colours.
You develop them over the course of your life. "The largest number of moles usually form during childhood and up through early adulthood, but you can develop new moles throughout your entire life — especially if you have excessive ultraviolet exposure," adds Dr. Jih.Do new freckles appear with age? ›
Freckles generally develop in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood, and they may increase in number and distribution during that time. A hallmark characteristic of freckles is that they get darker when exposed to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light.What is the difference between freckles and melasma? ›
Freckles are small, flat skin spots usually caused by genetics and exposure to the sun. On the other hand, melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation often caused by hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy, menopause, or taking birth control pills.How do you know if a freckle is suspicious? ›
ABCDE of Melanoma:
A for Asymmetry – the mole is not symmetrical. B for Border – the border of a freckle/mole is suspicious. C for Color – there is a variation in color within the spot or compared to other moles/freckles. D for Diameter – the mole is larger than 6mm in diameter.
Visible signs of precancerous skin
Crustiness or bleeding. Diameter of less than one inch. Discoloration, often appearing brown, pink, gray, red, yellow, or white. Flat or slightly raised.
Actinic keratoses are very common, and many people have them. They are caused by ultraviolet (UV) damage to the skin. Some actinic keratoses can turn into squamous cell skin cancer. Because of this, the lesions are often called precancer.Can a doctor tell if a mole is cancerous just by looking at it? ›
A visual check of your skin only finds moles that may be cancer. It can't tell you for sure that you have it. The only way to diagnose the condition is with a test called a biopsy. If your doctor thinks a mole is a problem, they will give you a shot of numbing medicine, then scrape off as much of the mole as possible.Where do melanoma freckles appear? ›
A new mole or a change in an existing mole may be signs of melanoma. Melanomas can appear anywhere on your body, but they're more common in areas that are often exposed to the sun. Some rarer types can affect the eyes, soles of the feet, palms of the hands or genitals. Check your skin for any unusual changes.What does cancerous skin look like? ›
It might look skin coloured, waxy, like a scar or thickened area of skin that's very slowly getting bigger. You might also see small blood vessels.What do freckles mean in face reading? ›
Freckles reveal how friendly and gregarious the person is. To some experts, freckles represent a crowd of people which are carried around on the face. Moles are like little punctuations, emphasising certain characteristics.
Going out in the sun makes your skin cells start producing extra melanin intended to shield your skin from sun damage. Increased melanin is also behind your sun tan — as well as your sunburn. If you have the necessary genetic predisposition, exposure to the sun will bring freckles out on your skin.What does 3 freckles in a triangle mean? ›
It's said to symbolize spiritual control and stolen freedom. Tune in to learn more about this fascinating topic! 🤔✨ #spiritualmeaning #freckle #birthmark #spiritualawakening.What do suspicious moles look like? ›
Border that is irregular: The edges of suspicious moles are ragged, notched or blurred in outline, while healthy moles tend to have more even borders. The pigment of the mole may also spread into the surrounding skin. Color that is uneven: The mole may have various colors present, including black, brown and tan.How big is stage 1 melanoma? ›
Stage I Melanoma
This is a noninvasive stage, which is also called melanoma “in situ,” meaning “in its original place.” With stage I melanoma, the tumor's thickness is 1mm or less. This tumor may or may not have ulcerated, and it isn't yet believed to have spread beyond the original site.
Melanoma can grow very quickly. It can become life-threatening in as little as 6 weeks and, if untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun.Will I feel ill with melanoma? ›
hard or swollen lymph nodes. hard lump on your skin. unexplained pain. feeling very tired or unwell.
Normally, the first place a melanoma tumor metastasizes to is the lymph nodes, by literally draining melanoma cells into the lymphatic fluid, which carries the melanoma cells through the lymphatic channels to the nearest lymph node basin.Does melanoma show up in blood work? ›
Blood tests. Blood tests aren't used to diagnose melanoma, but some tests may be done before or during treatment, especially for more advanced melanomas. Doctors often test blood for levels of a substance called lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) before treatment.What's the difference between freckles and moles? ›
The main difference between moles and freckles is that moles are raised from the surface of the skin whereas a freckle tends to be flat on the skin . A freckle typically appears as brown spots, unlike moles that can be black, brown, pink and the colour of the surrounding skin.Can a freckle turn into a mole? ›
Freckles have a normal number of pigment-producing cells and cannot turn into moles.
Sunscreen won't get rid of existing freckles, but it helps prevent new ones. You should wear sunscreen year-round, even when it's cloudy. The American Academy of Dermatology offers these tips: Sunscreen should have an SPF of 30 or higher.What age do you get freckles? ›
The average age that children develop freckles is between two and four years old. “As kids get older, they start walking [on their own], doing more activities outdoors, and naturally have more sunlight exposure,” Teng tells Yahoo Parenting. This can trigger a smattering of freckles, particularly on children's faces.What to do if a freckle changes? ›
See your GP as soon as possible if you notice changes in a mole, freckle or patch of skin, particularly if the changes happen over a few weeks or months. Signs to look out for include a mole that's: getting bigger. changing shape.Can I get freckles from sitting in the shade? ›
Can you get freckles without sun exposure? While it may not be what you'd like to hear, the answer is unfortunately no. The only thing that can bring about freckles is sun exposure. It is important to note though that freckles don't necessarily mean sun damage.What is the best way to get rid of freckles? ›
Laser treatment is one of the most effective ways of removing freckles. Many freckles are often removed after just one session, and even persistent freckles can fade into obscurity after repeated sessions.What is Stage 1 melanoma look like? ›
Stage I melanoma is no more than 1.0 millimeter thick (about the size of a sharpened pencil point), with or without an ulceration (broken skin). There is no evidence that Stage I melanoma has spread to the lymph tissues, lymph nodes, or body organs.What are sneaky signs of melanoma? ›
- You know what melanoma looks like, right? ...
- An Unevenly Pigmented Patch of Skin. ...
- A Dark Line in Your Nail. ...
- Pigmentation in Your Gums. ...
- A Mole With a Halo. ...
- A Colorless Bump. ...
- A Load of Funny-Looking Moles. ...
- Any Sign of Blood.
Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesn't heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma. A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn't heal, or a change in a mole.Why am I getting freckles all of a sudden? ›
Genetics and sun exposure are the primary causes of freckles. Some people are more likely to get freckles than others, depending on their genes and skin type. If a person is genetically more likely to develop freckles, exposure to sunlight can make them appear.What is a benign freckle? ›
Most people have some skin marks, such as freckles and moles, which may multiply or darken over time. Benign means they are not cancer.
Lack of Vitamin B12
According to a 2008 study, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause skin discoloration such as brown spots. This discoloration can occur even if no other symptoms are present. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause “hyper-pigmentation”—this is a condition in which patches of skin become darker.
- Melasma. This is a common skin condition that usually affects facial skin and causes brown patches. ...
- Vitiligo. This disease can affect any part of the body. ...
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. ...
The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred. The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue. The spot is larger than ¼ inch across – about the size of a pencil eraser – although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.What would a cancerous freckle look like? ›
Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen. Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch).What does a pre cancerous freckle look like? ›
They are described as “hazy” because the precancerous mole fades into the healthy skin. Color: Whereas a common mole is one color, a precancerous mole is often a mixture of various colors like brown, black, red, or blue. Diameter: The larger the mole, the more likely it is precancerous.What do liver spots look like? ›
Liver spots are flat, brown or black spots that can appear on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. They have nothing to do with the liver or liver function. Lentigos, sometimes called age spots or freckles, are a result of cumulative damage to the skin by sunlight.Do freckles mean your skin is damaged? ›
Freckles themselves aren't a sign of damage to the skin. However, people who have freckles are more likely to be sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays that cause damage.Can freckles be cancerous? ›
Are Freckles Dangerous? Freckles are almost always harmless. You don't need to worry about a freckle turning cancerous. While some people may wish to lighten their freckles, others love them, and people who do not naturally have them can use makeup products, henna, and tattoos to get that freckled look.What does non cancerous melanoma look like? ›
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance. It can also look like a red, scaly patch. There's sometimes some brown or black pigment within the patch.When should I be worried about freckles moles? ›
It's important to get a new or existing mole checked out if it: changes shape or looks uneven. changes colour, gets darker or has more than 2 colours. starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding.
It's thought to be an interaction of genetic factors and sun damage in most cases. Moles usually emerge in childhood and adolescence, and change in size and color as you grow. New moles commonly appear at times when your hormone levels change, such as during pregnancy. Most moles are less than 1/4 inch in diameter.Are new freckles a concern? ›
Freckles are extremely common and aren't a health threat. They're more often seen in the summer. You're more likely to have freckles if you're lighter-skinned and have blond or red hair. However, freckles can occur in anyone, and appear as darker brown spots if you have darker skin.Is it normal to get new freckles? ›
You have them because of the genes you were born with. Freckles often show up during childhood, and you may continue to get more until you're in your 20s. People with fair skin or red hair are most likely to have them.What does melasma look like? ›
When melasma appears, it can cause tan, brown, grayish brown, or bluish gray patches and freckle-like spots. These usually appear on certain areas of face like the cheeks, forehead, chin, and even above the upper lip. While less common, melasma can develop on the arms, neck, or elsewhere.Does melasma look like freckles? ›
Occasionally, people develop melasma on their jawline, neck, arms, or elsewhere. Wherever melasma appears, it causes blotchy patches and spots that can look like freckles. The color varies with a person's skin tone and the severity of the melasma. In general, melasma is slightly darker than your natural skin color.Should you get a freckle checked if it bleeds? ›
If a mole looks different from the others, itches, bleeds, or is changing in any way, a dermatologist should examine it.Can a dermatologist tell if a mole is cancerous just by looking at it? ›
A visual check of your skin only finds moles that may be cancer. It can't tell you for sure that you have it. The only way to diagnose the condition is with a test called a biopsy. If your doctor thinks a mole is a problem, they will give you a shot of numbing medicine, then scrape off as much of the mole as possible.How do doctors check freckles? ›
A dermatologist will check your skin from head to toe, making note of any spots that need monitoring or further treatment. Many dermatologists will use a lighted magnifier called a dermatoscope to view moles and spots closely.What is a freckle with a lighter ring around it? ›
A halo nevus is a mole surrounded by a white ring or halo. These moles are almost always benign, meaning they aren't cancerous. Halo nevi (the plural of nevus) are sometimes called Sutton nevi or leukoderma acquisitum centrifugum. They're fairly common in both children and young adults.What are the 5 warning signs of melanoma? ›
- Asymmetry. The shape of one-half of the mole does not match the other.
- Border. The edges are ragged, notched, uneven, or blurred.
- Color. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. ...
- Diameter. The diameter is usually larger than 6 millimeters (mm) or has grown in size. ...
feeling sick. poor appetite and weight loss. a swollen tummy (called ascites) yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)How long can you live with melanoma untreated? ›
In the very early stages the 5-year survival rate is 99%. Once melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes the 5-year survival rate is 63%. If melanoma spreads to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival drops to just 20%.What skin spots should I worry about? ›
Keep an eye on spots that look different to others on your body, spots that have changed in size, shape, colour or texture, and sores that itch, bleed, or don't heal. If you notice any of these signs, see your doctor and seek their expert opinion.Where does melanoma spread first? ›
Doctors have known for decades that melanoma and many other cancer types tend to spread first into nearby lymph nodes before entering the blood and traveling to distant parts of the body.What is the survival rate for melanoma? ›
Survival for all stages of melanoma
around 90 out of every 100 people (around 90%) will survive their melanoma for 5 years or more after diagnosis. more than 85 out of every 100 people (more than 85%) will survive their melanoma for 10 years or more after they are diagnosed.
Most freckles are uniform in color, but it varies depending on skin tone. They can be red, tan, light brown, dark brown, black, or any color that is darker than the person's skin color. That is typically why people with pale skin have a more reddish hue to their freckles.What is the rarest spot for a freckle? ›
A rare skin finding called axillary freckling (freckles in the armpit) is occasionally seen in a rare inherited disease called neurofibromatosis. These freckles are quite different in appearance from the common variety in both their appearance and distribution.What is Hutchinson's freckle? ›
A cellular subtype of malignant melanoma. It is a pigmented lesion composed of melanocytes occurring on sun-exposed skin, usually the face and neck. The melanocytes are commonly multinucleated with a "starburst" appearance.