Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Most people know that moles can turn cancerous and that they need to keep a close eye on their moles, but what about freckles? Does having freckles increase your risk of skin cancer? Should you get your freckles checked out by a skin cancer doctor or dermatologist too?
Freckles are very common. People all over the world of many different skin tones can get freckles. But we’re not born with them – they tend to make their first appearance after the first few years of life. Since freckles and moles can look quite similar, it makes sense that people worry about if having freckles increases your risk of skin cancer. The truth is that freckles themselves are almost always benign, but if you have freckles, you’re likely to be more sensitive to the sun and more susceptible to sun damage in general.
Here is what you need to know about freckles, whether or not you should be concerned about them, and how to protect yourself from skin cancer.
What Are Freckles?
Freckles are small spots on your skin that can be tan, reddish, brown, or dark brown in color. While they are most commonly seen on white people, especially those with red hair and blue eyes, people of all skin tones can get freckles. As they are darker than your skin, the darker your skin tone, the darker your freckles will be.
Freckles are the result of the overproduction of melanin. They’re usually only a millimeter or two in size and typically appear in clusters. They usually first appear in childhood, and you can continue to get more and more into your 20s. As you age, your freckles can fade away. They can also fade in the winter if your freckles are a result of sun exposure.
How Do You Get Freckles?
Freckles are genetic and can result from how much sun you’re exposed to. If you get freckles, this means that you have the MC1R gene, which influences your body’s production of melanin. If you are someone who burns in the sun rather than tans, you are more likely to get freckles, but this gene can be present in all races, from Black to white.
Sun exposure can cause freckles, which is why many people who have them usually notice an increase in the number of their freckles during the summer. These can fade in the winter as sun exposure lessens.
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.
Since freckles mostly develop as a result of sun exposure, this means that your skin is more sensitive to the sun. Freckles themselves aren’t dangerous, but they are a sign that you need to be more careful in the sun. Sun damage is one of the first steps to developing skin cancer, and having freckles means that you’re more likely to experience sun damage to your skin if you’re not careful. You should take extra care to wear sunscreen and mind the amount of time you spend in the sun.
How To Differentiate Between Freckles And Moles
Sometimes the difference between freckles and moles is obvious. Freckles are usually flat and smooth, just dark flecks across your skin. Moles are usually raised, darker in color than freckles, and bigger too. Almost everyone gets a few freckles and/or moles throughout their life, but as they are both dark spots on your skin, sometimes, people can’t tell whether that new spot is a freckle or a mole.
You do need to monitor your moles, as moles can turn cancerous. You can tell freckles and moles apart by whether or not they are raised off your skin. Freckles usually appear on skin that gets exposed to sunlight while moles can appear anywhere on your body. While freckles usually appear in groups, moles are typically on their lonesomes.
How To Protect Your Skin
Freckles themselves don’t increase your risk of skin cancer, however, they do mean that you’re more sensitive to the sun. Sun damage can cause skin cancer, so if you have freckles, you do need to take extra care to protect your skin.
Some of the ways you can protect your skin from the sun include:
- Wearing sunscreen every day, regardless of whether or not the sun is shining or you are staying inside all day
- Limiting your sun exposure
- Staying in the shade, especially between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, as this is when UV rays are strongest
Freckles can be monitored the same way moles are. If they have jagged borders, become raised off your skin, start to grow, get sore, have multiple colors, or have a diameter of more than 6 millimeters, you should have them looked at by your doctor.
Are You Worried About Your Risk Of Skin Cancer?
Allen-Taintor Dermatology can screen your skin and provide you with education on how to decrease your risk of skin cancer. To learn more about how to protect yourself, don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule an appointment today!