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  • Writer's pictureDermatology Partners of the North Shore

Debunking Dermatology Myths – Freckles, Moles & SPF

How do you know when it’s time to get that mole checked out by your dermatologist? If your makeup has SPF in it, do you really need to apply sunscreen? You can find the answers to these questions and more in round two of our Debunking Dermatology Myths series with Dr. Nicole Huffman, MD. Did you miss round one on anti-aging and acne myths? Check out our last blog post here.

Dr. Nicole P. Huffman, MD

Dr. Huffman is a board-certified dermatologist who joined Dermatology Partners of the North Shore in 2012 and became a partner in 2017. She is on the medical staff of NorthShore University Health System, a diplomat of the American Board of Dermatology, and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Freckles and Moles What is the difference between a freckle and a mole?

This difference can mainly be seen under a microscope, which shows how the cells are arranged differently. Generally speaking, moles are constant, and they shouldn't change. Whereas with freckles, we can see them getting lighter in the winter, and darker in the summertime. Increased sun exposure can also lead to both increased freckles and increased moles. Overall, if you notice a change in any of these, it's good idea to see your doctor. In addition to noticing any changes, how can you tell if a spot or mole needs to be checked by a dermatologist?

There’s an easy way to remember what to look for when doing a spot or mole check. It’s called the ABCDE method.

The A is for asymmetry. Take a look both sides of the spot and compare them. Take note if they look exactly the same on both sides or if there are any variances. An example of a variance may be that one side looks lighter or darker than the other side.

The B is for border. Ideally, you’re looking for a nice, smooth border. It’s a good time to see your doctor if you notice a spot that has an irregular border, scalloped edges, or a border that is poorly defined.

The C is for color. As mentioned, it’s important to note the color of the spot. Check to see if there are any changes in color or if it is the same throughout.

The D is for diameter. This is one aspect that can safely have some variance. Typically, if you have anything bigger than a pencil eraser, then it should be looked at by a dermatologist. Keep in mind, not all moles that are larger than a pencil eraser may be problematic, so we are a little bit more lenient with this one.

The E is for evolution. This is my favorite aspect of mole checks. Reviewing the evolution of a mole simply means to take a look at whether it is changing. Notice if anything is different with the size, shape or color of the spot, whether it has started to feel itchy, or if just looks like it may have changed. You know your own body, so if you find that something is different or feels off, then it’s a good idea to have your doctor take a look at it.

Sunscreen and Skin Cancer

How can you tell if you're at high risk for skin cancer?

There are a couple of things that can put you at high risk. One is family history, which is something we can’t change. If you know that someone in your family has a history of skin cancer, then there is a higher risk for you. The second factor is your skin color itself. The lighter the skin, the easier it is for you to burn, which in turn, puts you more at risk for skin cancer. This goes along with having lighter eyes. In addition, a history of sunburns can also put you at an increased risk.

What can you do to prevent skin cancer?

Using sunscreen is the number one thing you can do to prevent skin cancer. It’s also a good idea to plan your time outdoors to avoid the sun at its strongest. If you love being outside, like me, it’s best to be active in the morning hours and then in the later afternoon hours.

Sun protective clothing is a great option for those who don’t like the consistency of sunscreen or having to reapply it regularly. This would include a big hat that provides good coverage to your face and neck. I suggest having multiple hats within easy reach, one for your car and one by the back door would be a good place to start.

Last, I recommend avoiding tanning beds. There are new studies that show that using a tanning bed just one time can increase your risk of melanoma by 20%. Any significant use, which is 10 or more times, can increase the risk to 75%. It’s important to remember that melanoma is an aggressive type of skin cancer and can kill you. I would say absolutely no to tanning beds. If your make-up already has SPF in it, then do you need to apply sunscreen as well?

The answer is yes. Typically, most people are not putting makeup on every square inch of their face. For example, if you’re not applying make-up to your upper or lower eyelids, then those areas are also not getting the SPF. It’s best to start off with a face moisturizer that has an SPF, or a facial SPF, and then you can apply your makeup on top of that. I like to think of it as getting double coverage.

What's the best way of treating a sunburn?

When you get a sunburn, there is a lot of inflammation and cell death. Using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1%, can help with the pain and the uncomfortable sensation that comes with a sunburn. Also taking NSAIDS, like Advil or Aleve, can help bring the inflammation down. Last, make sure to use sunscreen before heading outside. You don't want to go outside without sunscreen in any case, but especially if you already have a sunburn.

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