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Moles vs Freckles – How to Tell the Difference and Everything In Between

iStock_000004040382_SmallSummer fun is coming to an end.  The (maybe dreaded) finish line is in sight. As you try to squeeze in those last moments at the pool or beach, it’s still important to protect yourself and your little ones from sunburns. But what does this have to do with moles vs freckles? While melanoma usually appears as a new spot, sometimes it starts as an existing mole or freckle. Here’s the scoop on moles vs freckles.


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Some Scary Skin Cancer Statistics

Did you know that:

  • One or more blistering sunburns during childhood or adolescence more than doubles an individual’s risk of developing melanoma later in life.
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer among 25-29 year olds and the second most common cancer among 15-29 year olds.
  • Regular daily use of sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher reduces the risk of melanoma by 50%.



The Facts on Moles vs Freckles and Birthmarks

People typically develop moles from the time we are six months old until we are about 30 years old. On average, people have somewhere between 6 and 20 moles throughout their bodies. We start to get worried when a person has a mole count of 50 or more and we get really worried when they have 100 or more.   Anyone with a large mole count (it doesn’t have to be exactly 50 or more) should see a dermatologist.

Most melanomas start out as new marks (about 2/3 of the time) but they can begin as birthmarks, moles or freckles (the other 1/3 of the time). It is important to be aware of moles you have, the type of moles you are developing, and the sheer number of moles you have.

Everyone tends to develop one to three “families” of moles. This means that we have groups of moles that appear similar to each other. If you notice a mole that looks different from the others, it’s time for a visit to the dermatologist. This is what derms like to call an “ugly duckling.” As we get older, we may develop more freckles but we don’t develop true moles. If you are 30 or older and you develop a new “ugly duckling” mole, be wary and get it checked out by a dermatologist.

Freckles are small, light brown patches that develop from chronic ultraviolet exposure in fair skin. If you or your child or baby has freckles, it means you are getting too much ultraviolet exposure. If you start to see freckles, slather on more sunscreen for sun protection as part of your baby skin care routine! Sunscreen is safe for babies six months old or older.

Birthmarks (clinically known as congenital nevi) are moles that we are born with.  They are either there when we are born or appear right after birth. Birthmarks are characterized into three different sizes: small (less than 2 cm), medium (2 cm-20cm) and large (>20cm). Large birthmarks have an increased risk of melanoma so most dermatologists will recommend that they be removed. If your child has a birthmark, show it to your pediatrician or dermatologist and get an expert’s opinion.

What to Look For

Pay special attention to your moles if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • being red-headed
  • being fair-skinned (blonde-haired and blue-eyed)
  • a family history of melanoma in a first-degree relative (e.g. your parents, your siblings, your children)
  • a history of blistering sunburns
  • having more than 50 moles

Know the ABCDE’s of melanoma to be able to spot a suspicious mole:

  • A – Asymmetry. Look for moles that are asymmetric (that means you can’t draw a line down the middle and match up both sides)
  • B – Borders. Be suspicious of moles with fuzzy borders.
  • C – Color. Notice moles with different shades of color or two-toned moles.
  • D – Diameter. Be suspicious of larger moles, greater that 6mm in diameter.
  • E – Evolving. Look for moles that are changing. Moles should just exist. If any mole changes, see your dermatologist.

Look for the newer mole that is the “ugly duckling” and appears different from your other families of moles.

Individuals with a darker skin type are at risk for a particular melanoma called acral lentiginous melanoma. This type of melanoma typically appears on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. If you have a darker skin type and notice a new, abnormal-appearing mole on your palm or sole, have that mole further evaluated by your dermatologist.

You don’t have to be afraid of your moles and freckles. With a little bit of knowledge and some diligence in paying attention to them, you can keep your family safe from melanoma. Enjoy these lazy days of summer!


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One thought on “Moles vs Freckles – How to Tell the Difference and Everything In Between

  1. Thank you. Glad it’s helpful.

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