When it comes to your skin and your health, it seems like there are a million little things that can go wrong—sunburns, cuts, bruises, scratches, allergic reactions, and many more—but nothing is so disquieting as a mole that appears on your skin one day, seemingly without warning. But moles can be tricky things to identify, especially if you're prone to the other skin condition that involves dots popping up: freckles. Moles and freckles can mean very different things for your health, diagnostically speaking, and you can have problems if you misidentify a suspicious mole as a funny-looking freckle. So if you're wondering how to differentiate between the all too common freckles on your skin and a potentially hazardous mole, then here's what you need to know.
Check the Color
Generally speaking, the color of that dot on your arm is the most important signifier of whether it's a mole or a freckle. Freckles tend to be light in color (especially in fair-skinned people). Freckles are usually a shade or two darker than the skin around it but not noticeable from fifty feet away or so.
Moles, on the other hand, tend to be much darker than the rest of your skin and are usually noticeable in pictures and in person, even if you're fifty feet away. Moles are generally dark brown and uniform in color, but if you've got a mole with more than one color on it, you should go get it checked out by a doctor such as Henry E. Wiley, III, M.D.
Feel the Bump
The texture of the dot is another way to clearly differentiate between moles and freckles. Freckles are generally flat (or ever so slightly raised—just enough that if you really concentrate you can feel a slight difference) on the skin. Freckles are just a different color from the skin around it.
Moles are different; the majority of moles are raised, though a mole being flat can mean that it's either a relatively new one or that it's an old one that's slowly fading away. If you have a mole that's raised enough that it regularly catches on clothing and clasps, you may want to see your dermatologist about getting it removed both to get rid of any cancer risk and to prevent it from getting ripped open and bleeding.
Note the Change
Freckles have really only two changes: they're either appearing or disappearing. Since they're caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, freckles will appear or vanish based on how much or how little exposure to UV light you've had recently.
Moles can fade away and fade in, but they take a long while to do so and can undergo other (more worrying) changes as well. If you notice that you have a spot that's rapidly growing, changing color, or changing its shape from a circle to an irregular blob, you should notify your doctor and have that mole examined for possible melanoma.