Signs Your Sunspot Could Be Something Serious

Signs Your Sunspot Could Be Something Serious

By Dr. Vincent D'Amore, MD, FACEP

Finally, it's the time of year for barbecues, the beach, basking outdoors, and enjoying the glory of summer.

But catching rays can have consequences for your skin. You may notice more brown spots appearing on your complexion, which can be worrying — especially if you're concerned about skin cancer.

Freckles and sunspots are two of the most common types of discoloration. Most brown spots are harmless, but too much UV exposure can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

Self-assessment is the first line of prevention, so here's how to tell the difference between freckles and sunspots—and when you should visit your nearest CityMD.

What Are Freckles?

Freckles are brown spots on the skin that are smaller than an eraser head (five to six millimeters). They tend to appear during childhood on sun-exposed areas of skin like the face, shoulders, and arms. People with lighter skin and red or blond hair are more likely to develop freckles.


What Are Sunspots?

These tend to be larger in size and appear in adulthood after a lifetime of sun exposure. "Solar lentigines" is the medical term for these areas of discoloration, although they are sometimes called "age spots" or "liver spots" (even though they have nothing to do with the liver).


Signs Your Sunspot is Something More Serious

Sunspots typically don't require treatment, but it's important to distinguish between a sunspot and a cancerous growth.


You can use the ABCDE rule to look for common signs of skin cancer:


- Asymmetry: One half of the spot doesn't match the other.

- Borders: The spot has a jagged, irregular, notched, or blurred border.

- Colors: The color varies and may include shades of brown, black, pink, white, or blue.

- Diameter: The diameter is larger than six millimeters.

- Evolving: The shape of the spot has changed significantly.

See a medical professional immediately if your sunspot exhibits these qualities or if it bleeds spontaneously, itches, burns, or starts swelling.


How to Prevent Sunspots

Like most health conditions, prevention is the best treatment for sunspots.


Specifically, you should apply sunscreen generously and often. Slather SPF 30 or above on your skin 15 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating. Make sure to use at least one ounce (a shot glass full) for the best coverage and check that the sunscreen hasn't expired before you use it.


You can also protect your skin from excess UV exposure — and sunspots — by:


- Wearing a hat and lightweight clothing to cover your arms and legs

- Limiting time in direct sunlight between 10 am and 4 pm

- Installing an anti-UVB coating on your car's windows

- Avoiding tanning beds


While sunspots aren't malignant, they are still a sign of sun damage and you should take them seriously. It's a good idea to get a full body skin exam annually from a dermatologist, or your primary care provider, and point out any spots that you're concerned about.


Author Bio:

Dr. D’Amore is a Board Certified Emergency Medicine physician who was raised in Queens, N.Y. He initially went to Baruch College/CUNY to become a finance mogul but heard the call of medicine and graduated magna cum laude in Biology and among other honors, was a member of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society for psychology.


Dr. D’Amore then went to Albert Einstein College of Medicine and completed a medical intern year as well as a year in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mount Sinai Medical Center before completing a residency in Emergency Medicine at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Medical Center.


Dr. D’Amore has worked in community ER’s in the tri-state area but still enjoyed any opportunity to teach at academic ER’s as well. He relishes the opportunity and reward of sharing medical knowledge and experience. He is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Medicine and considers himself both a frustrated college professor as well as a frustrated professional food critic. Thankfully that allows him to teach medicine passionately to clinicians who also receive great food recommendations to boot.