Skin Spots: The Difference Between Age Spots, Moles, Melasma, and Freckles

Written by Lela Lankerani, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on April 26, 2018 7 Comments

pigmentation types

All humans have some form of pigmented spotting along their skin. Whether you are born with these spots or develop them over time through aging or sun exposure it’s very important to monitor your skin and discuss any changes of your skin markings with a dermatologist. While most brown spots are harmless, some may be a sign of skin cancer.

Here’s a brief overview of the most common forms of skin spots (along with best treatment options):


Freckles are tiny, flat, circular spots that are typically beige or brown in color. They typically appear in groups along areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun like the face, arms, and legs. Freckles often become darker after sun exposure and significantly lighten up in the winter months. Options to get rid of freckles include topical skin care products (such as retinoid creams and vitamin C serums) and laser skin resurfacing treatments (such as Clear + Brilliant or Fraxel).

Age spots

Also referred to as sun spots or solar lentinges, age spots are flat brown spots that appear when the skin is chronically exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from tanning beds. Age spots commonly form on areas of the body that are most frequently exposed to the sun, like the face, hands, neck, décolletage, arms and legs. Treatment options for age spots include topical skin lightening products, chemical peels, laser treatments, and microdermabrasion.


A mole is a growth on the skin that can be flesh-colored, brown, or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. Moles can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) which is why it’s critical to monitor any moles you have for changes. We recommend monitoring the mole for changes to the ABCDE’s: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolving. For more information on skin cancer self-examination please view this print out provided by The American Academy of Dermatology. Malignant moles should be removed by an excision or Mohs surgery, and non-cancerous moles can also be surgically removed if desired by the patient.


Melasma is a common skin disorder that creates dark discoloration patches along the skin. Melasma generally manifests itself in a brown or gray discoloration across the cheeks, forehead, nose, chin or upper lip, and is most often uniform and symmetrical on both sides of the face. Most melasma is caused by hormonal changes within the body. Melasma can be treated with topical skin lightening treatments, chemical peels, or microdermabrasion. Laser treatments are often not recommended as laser heat can actually make melasma symptoms worse.

Lela Lankerani, MD

Lela Lankerani D.O. received her undergraduate degree in Biology at Washington University where she graduated cum laude. Dr. Lankerani has published articles in several scientific journals and has presented at national scholarly meetings including the American Academy of Dermatology and American Osteopathic Academy of Dermatology.

7 Responses to “Skin Spots: The Difference Between Age Spots, Moles, Melasma, and Freckles”

  1. Avatar Camay says:

    May I ask do you have PiQo4 laser remove dark age spots on face

  2. Avatar Harvey says:

    Very informative article! I like the info provided by you about the skin problems. Thanks for sharing the great article.

  3. Avatar Camay says:

    May I ask which location of your dermatology have PiQO4 laser treatment, or all 9 location have that laser treatment.

  4. Avatar Issie says:

    Hi. Lela Lankerani. Thanks for sharing a great and useful article. I’m also facing with freckles and dark spots and finding the products which is suitable and applicable for my sensitive facial skin. I think aging is one of clauses to freckle and dark spots besides the sun. I’m looking at to learn more about the product to help me getting rid of the problems. By the way, I would like to get some suggestion from you about the product I’m looking. Thanks for your suggestion in advance.

  5. Avatar avantika says:

    educating article about skin. All people have some type of pigmented spotting along with their skin. Regardless of whether you are brought into the world with these spots and create them after some time through maturing and sun presentation it’s essential to screen your skin and examine any progressions of your skin markings with a dermatologist. thanks for sharing

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