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Freckles, Moles and Birthmarks: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Girl with Freckles
Cristian May via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Girl with Freckles

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about skin things: freckles, moles and birthmarks.

If you look around at people’s skin, you’ll see that everybody’s skin is different. If you look at your father or your brother or even your grandmother, you might see that some things about their skin are the same as yours. But some things are pretty different. Things like freckles, moles and birthmarks.

These are marks on your skin, as if someone dabbed you with paint. Moles, freckles and birthmarks aren’t dangerous and they don’t mean you are sick. Everybody has some so it can be interesting for kids to know a little more about them.

First, freckles. Freckles are flat, brown dots that can be anywhere on a kid’s skin, but mostly arms and legs and face. Freckles can be as tiny as the head of a pin or they can be the size of a grain of rice or even as big as a pea. They don’t hurt and you can’t feel them; you can only see them.

Freckles happen because of sun exposure and a reaction by something called melanin. M-E-L-A-N-I-N. Melanin is a pigment, or a coloring, in the skin that makes the skin brown. When kids are out in the sun, melanin comes to the surface of the skin and makes it darker. This happens in kids of all different skin color but you’ll notice it more in kids with light skin. Freckles are made when a little patch of skin cells makes more melanin than the skin around it.

Some kid’s skin makes hardly any freckles; other kids have over a thousand freckles. Freckles come out when the sun shines directly on your skin. So that’s why most freckles are darker in the winter and lighter in the summer. And that’s also why some people call freckles ‘sun kisses’.

Moles are another kind of skin mark. They are bigger than freckles and a little different. Moles are clusters of cells with melanin and they are raised, which means they stick out. You can feel them. Sometimes a mole can have a hair growing right out of it; that can make it look like an insect.

Moles are not caused by the sun. They happen because our body makes them. Some kids are born with moles and some kids get moles while they’re growing up. Usually you get all your moles by the time you are twenty.

Moles can change. They can get darker or lighter and even completely go away by the time people are 50 years old.

Birthmarks are completely different. They are just what their name says – marks that are on your skin when you are born. Birthmarks are flat and usually red or brown. They look like a splat of paint. Lots of times birthmarks fade away as a person gets older. Birthmarks that are on a kid’s face are sometimes called ‘Angel Kisses’. People think that when the child was born, an angel came down and kissed it and left a mark. Kind of like lipstick, but the sort of lipstick that doesn’t wash off!

Birthmarks that are on the back of the neck are often called ‘Stork Bites’. That name comes from an ancient legend that said that storks – tall, long legged birds that wade in the water and have big, long beaks – grabbed babies by the back of the neck and delivered them to their family. A little bit scary but maybe a fun ride, being carried through the sky by a stork.

Two important things about skin marks. One, don’t worry about them because they are a normal thing that kids have. But yours ever look different or funny, tell your parents.

Two, don’t ever tease a kid because of their skin marks. Kids can’t help it if they have freckles, moles or birthmarks and it really hurts a lot to be teased. Plus, being mean is really bad for your health, while being kind makes you stronger and happier. And remember, kids with marks are kissed by angels and the sun, so they are extra special!

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.

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