6 Tips for Spotting Sun Spots

May 7th 2016

Sun spots are harmless and quite common, especially if they appear after you are 40. Mistakenly identifying a cancerous skin spot as a sun spot may have dire consequences. Visit your dermatologist at least once a year, and discuss the best ways to perform self-exams.

Examine Texture

Sun spots are smooth and flat, resembling freckles. Other benign skin spots may appear raised, and some have a scaly texture. However, texture alone is not enough to rule out cancer. Melanoma often begins as a flat, smooth spot that looks very similar to a sun spot, or it may start as a raised smooth growth. Less serious forms of skin cancer often begin as rough or scaly patches on the skin.

Check for Symmetry

If you draw an imaginary line down the center of a sun spot, the size and shape of both sides are very similar. On the other hand, a cancerous skin spot typically appears larger on one side and lacks symmetry. In its earliest stages, skin cancer may appear symmetric so again, this is not a sure-fire way to identify a sun spot.

Inspect Color

Sun spots are usually dark brown, black or tan, and they generally consist of a single hue. Cancerous spots may also appear in these colors, but they are often a mixture of various shades. A brown or black spot with specks of red, blue or white is also a reason for concern. Again, melanoma may start out as a solid brown or black spot. Keep an eye on sun spots that are dark in color.

Consider Size

Identifying a sun spot by its size is not always easy. Most sun spots are no smaller than the eraser on a pencil and no larger than a dime, although some are much smaller. Melanoma growths may start small, but these and other cancerous skin spots are usually larger than a pencil eraser.

Examine Borders

The border surrounding a sun spot is typically smooth and regular. Look for notched edges, uneven patterns or other irregularities in the border, and make an appointment with your dermatologist if you notice anything similar.

Watch for Change

Skin cancer growths evolve as the disease progresses. What appears to be a sun spot today may look much different in the future if it is really melanoma. It is important to monitor any skin spots vigilantly for changes in texture, size, border regularity or symmetry. Also pay attention to spots that seem to darken in color.


Is that new freckle just a sun spot, or is it something more serious? Skin cancer plagues about 20 percent of Americans, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Regular checkups with a dermatologist are essential. Use these tips to identify skin spots that appear in between visits.

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