Little boy looking through binoculars.


What is That Thing?!?

Freckle, age spot or mole? Knowing the difference between these distinguishing marks can clue you into the warning signs of skin cancer. Brush up on the basics for the best preventive measures.

Freckles reveal themselves in a random sprinkling of small, brownish-colored spots caused by an increase in melanin production. 

Age spots show up as either small red dots, flat tan-to-brown discolorations, or flat or raised often scaly spots, pale to dark brown or black in color. All can be the result of sun exposure, the aging process or heredity.

Basal cell carcinoma looks like a small, pearly or waxy raised bump similar to the appearance of a pimple or mole and tends to be pink or flesh-toned. 

Squamous cell carcinoma appears like a wart and if scratched or bumped could bleed.

Melanoma presents itself in various ways. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, signs to look for include an asymmetrical mole, an uneven border, a mix of colors, a large diameter (think bigger than a pencil eraser) and any changes in a mole. To regularly keep skin in check, just remember ABCDE: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter and Evolving.

“Knowing your own skin is the key to discovering skin cancer early on,” says Mark G. Lebwohl, M.D., chair of the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman Department of Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “See a dermatologist for a skin check if you notice a spot, mole or lump on your body that is changing, growing or bleeding.” The good news, he adds, is that most skin cancers, even melanoma, can be cured and treated when detected early.

Reduce Your Risks
While sun safety is important all year long, it's essential to protect your skin from top to toe this time of year, says Kathleen Suozzi, M.D., a Yale Medicine dermatologist. “Summer brings with it a carefree state of mind that sometimes leads people to being more laid-back about sun protection than they should be," she says. For people living in the Sunshine State especially, being diligent about slathering on sunscreen should always be top of mind.

But an SPF is not just for outdoors. Did you know that driving in your car with the window open – or closed – can also be a risk factor? While the majority of windshields screen out both UVA and UVB rays, side windows don’t protect against skin-damaging UVA radiation. A recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology states that “over 50 percent of skin cancers in the U.S. occur on the left, or driver’s side, of the body.” 

If you drive with the window open, take precautionary steps: Apply (and re-apply) sunscreen to your left arm or wear a light covering with sleeves. Sun-protective clothing is designed to block harmful ultraviolet rays from penetrating the skin, while UV sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat will aid in covering any exposed areas of the face, neck and scalp.