There are many types of spots that can appear on the skin. While most of these are benign, some require medical attention because they might be cancerous. Freckles are almost always benign, but certain types of moles can be an indication that a patient has some type of skin cancer. It is important for patients to learn to differentiate between types of skin discolorations so that they can tell if a spot is a mole or freckle. In general, freckles are small brown dots that may darken or fade with exposure to sunlight, whereas moles are dark colored growths that often project out from the surface of the skin.
The first step in determining whether a spot is a freckle or mole is to feel the spot. When examining a spot with the fingertips, the patient can determine whether it is raised or whether it is flush with the skin. A freckle is never raised, so a patient will know, if the spot rises above the surrounding skin, that the spot is not a freckle. Not all moles will protrude from the skin, however, so a spot that is not raised could be either a mole or freckle.
Visually examining the spot is another way for patients to determine whether an area of discoloration is a mole or freckle. Freckles are often medium to dark brown in color, but many moles are dark brown or black. As a person ages, however, moles tends to lighten in color and can become medium or light brown. Additionally, freckles are almost always small, round spots, while moles can be small or large and may not be circular in shape.
The location of a spot can also be an indication as to whether it is a mole or freckle. Moles may occur all over the body and are not necessarily any more prevalent in areas that receive a lot of sun exposure. Freckles are often found on the face and arms, where a person is exposed to the most sunlight.
Patients can also examine spots on the body to see how they change over time. Moles do not usually go away on their own. They often grow larger with time, both in diameter and in height above the surrounding skin, and may begin to grow hairs. Freckles, on the other hand, are often seasonal, darkening in the summer months and lightening or disappearing altogether when the skin is not as exposed to sunlight.