Sunday, March 1, 2009

Where do Freckles and Moles come from?

My friend Cathy asked me yesterday if I knew where freckles and moles came from. What a great question! I didn't exactly know the answer, so I looked it up. I found the following article.

Thanks Cathy!

Freckles, Moles and Skin Cancer
Freckles and moles are both areas of pigmented skin. However, they differ in that freckles are a harmless skin condition caused by sun exposure, while moles can progress into skin cancer.

Freckles are small, flat areas of skin pigmentation that develop after birth. Usually seen on the arms and face, freckles can be red, brown or tan. Light skinned or light haired people are generally more susceptible to developing freckles, as are redheads.

Freckles develop on a person's skin due to sun exposure. While genetics are not the direct cause of freckles, genes do determine whether we have light colored skin or hair, both of which increase a person's chances of developing freckles.

Most freckles develop in late childhood, but it is possible to develop freckles later in life.

Freckles and Skin Cancer
Although freckles do not cause skin cancer, significant freckling may indicate a heightened risk of developing skin cancer through moles or other skin conditions. In addition, some early symptoms of skin cancer resemble freckles. As a result, always have new growths or alternations in your skin's pigmentation checked out by a dermatologist.

Moles are collections of melanocytes, the cells that determine skin color. Most moles resemble small brown or spots on the skin and may be either flat or raised. Moles can also be:

  • bluish
  • red
  • tan
  • the same color as the surrounding skin
  • white

Types of Moles
Unlike freckles, moles can be present from birth. Called congenital moles, these moles have a higher risk of progressing into skin cancers than moles that develop later in life. Congenital moles occur in approximately one percent of the population.

Another type of mole is the dysplastic mole. These are moles that are larger than a typical mole. Also known as atypical moles, dysplastic moles are irregularly shaped, with uneven coloration and borders.

People with dysplastic moles have a higher chance of developing malignant melanoma, one of the most aggressive skin cancers, than those with non-dysplastic moles. While most adults have 10 to 40 moles, people with dysplastic moles can have up to 100 moles, and should be examined regularly by a dermatologist for signs of skin cancer.

Skin Cancer and Moles
The vast majority of moles are harmless, but any mole can develop into skin cancer. Dermatologists recommend having moles with any of the following characteristics examined:

  • asymmetrical moles (one half of the mole does not look like the other half)
  • bleeding moles
  • itchy moles
  • moles larger than a pencil eraser in diameter
  • moles that appear scaly
  • moles that are raised or elevated above the skin
  • moles that develop after age twenty
  • moles that change shape over time
  • moles with blurred or irregular borders
  • moles with uneven coloration or shading
  • tender or painful moles.

Moles that may indicate skin cancers are usually surgically removed and examined microscopically for signs of cancer. Removing moles is often the only treatment needed for early stage skin cancers.

Preventing and Removing Moles
No sure way to prevent moles exists. However, avoiding excessive sun exposure can reduce the number of moles that you may develop. As genetics play a role in mole development, prevention is not always possible.

Unsightly or irritating moles can be removed by a dermatologist. They can either be removed surgically or frozen and then shaved away. If new moles develop where moles were removed, it's best to return to the dermatologist for an evaluation.


Article from

American Academy of Dermatology (2008). Moles. Retrieved April 3, 2008, from the American Academy of Dermatology Web site:

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (October 10, 2006). Freckles and moles: What's the difference? Retrieved April 3, 2008, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

WebMD (Updated March 1, 2007). Skin conditions: Moles, freckles and skin tags. Retrieved April 3, 2008, from the WebMD Web site:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! Very insightful!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, not the best thing to read just before going to bed. Now I'm measuring all my freckles....


Paul Phillip said...

but where do they originate from? like in history which group of people had the most visual moles/freckles? the irish? scottish? english?

i have hundreds and my parents are from european backgrounds.

Thefluff said...

What if you can't afford to see a doctor regularly? I have moles larger than dime size that concern me, but the lengthy process and cost discourages me from getting them checked out.