Our bodies are constantly growing, changing and evolving which means that finding new spots and growths on our skin throughout our live is common. These growths can be caused by any number of factors from normal development to aging or skin damage. Some of the most common spots found on our skin are moles and freckles which, for the most part, are benign. It is important however to know what moles and freckles are, how to recognise them and when you should get them checked.

Moles, what are they and what causes them

Melanocytes are pigment producing cells in the body that are responsible for the colour of the skin, as well as changes in pigmentation such as tanning. Moles are a collection of these melanocyte cells that have clustered together to form a skin growth. Most moles are harmless and the majority of people have been 10 and 40 moles on their body. Moles can develop anywhere on the skin including the back, scalp, armpits, buttocks and hands.

What does a mole look like?

  • Colour: Moles can come in a variety of colours including tan, brown, black, red, pink and blue.
  • Texture: Moles can be smooth, rough, flat against the skin or raised slightly. Sometimes they can have hair.
  • Shape: While the shape might vary most moles are oval or round.
  • Size: Moles that are present at birth can be very large, however, most moles are less than 6 millimetre in diameter.

Freckles, what are they and what causes them

Freckles are also created by an increased concentration of melanin and melanocytes, however, unlike moles, freckles are mostly temporary and more heavily affected by exposure to sunlight. They are a cluster of pigmented spots on the skin, most often found on areas frequently exposed to ultraviolet radiation and on fair skinned individuals such as redheads.

What does a freckle look like?

  • Colour: Freckles are normally reddish, yellow, tan, light brown or black. They become darker in summer and then fade in winter.
  • Texture: Freckles are typically flat.
  • Shape: Most freckles are small round or oval spots.
  • Size: Freckles are usually between 1 and 2 millimetres in size.

How to tell the difference

Freckles are normally smaller and flatter than moles. They are also much more likely to come in a cluster in one area of the skin. Finally, because freckles are more affected by exposure to sunlight they tend to become darker in summer and fade in winter.

When to be concerned

Both freckles and moles can change due to factors such as sun exposure or hormones. However, these factors tend to affect a number of moles or freckles, not just one. If you see a single growth changing by itself it should be seen as a potential risk.

Other indicators to look out for are moles or freckles that are asymmetrical, have an irregular border, come with patchy colours or have unexplained bleeding or itching.