Macule: Definition & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Have you ever seen small spots on your skin that are a different color than the majority of the rest of it? Did you ever wonder what these spots were? In this lesson, learn the definition of a macule as well as available treatment options.

Freckles on Your Face

Take a look at your face. Do you see any freckles? You probably have more than one. Do me a favor. While looking in the mirror, note the location of one or more freckles. Now close your eyes and run your fingers over the freckles. What difference can you feel between freckled and non-freckled skin? Trick question! You shouldn't notice any difference.

Actually, your freckles are one example of a macule. We'll learn the definition of a macule in this lesson and potential treatment options when a macule is of concern.

What Is a Macule?

The reason you shouldn't feel any difference between freckled vs. non-freckled skin is because a freckle, otherwise technically called an ephelis, is a type of macule. A macule is a small (up to 1cm in diameter), circumscribed, flat, and thus nonpalpable change in the pigmentation of the skin.

When I say flat, I mean that a macule is neither raised from the skin, like a mole, nor depressed into the skin like stretch marks. That's why it's nonpalpable. Meaning, you can't palpate (feel) it with your hands since it's continuous with normal skin and bears no change on the texture nor thickness of the skin.

When I say circumscribed, I mean a macule is within a well-defined area. It has very obvious boundaries or limits to it. In other words, it doesn't fade into the surrounding skin over a distance so that it's hard to tell where it ends or begins.

Macules can come in various shapes and are typically, but not always, of a brown, red, or white color. Any macule-looking area on the skin that is more than 1cm in diameter is technically called a patch, just in case you were curious. While macules are most often found on the skin, they can be found in other places, like inside of the mouth.

Treating a Macule

Commonly, a macule does not necessitate any treatment as it's simply a cosmetic issue. There are, however, instances where a person may want to remove a macule for cosmetic reasons. It may also be removed for him if a doctor suspects it may be potentially malignant, or cancerous, tissue.

If the latter is suspected, the macule is removed via surgery. Surgery can also be used to remove a macule for cosmetic reasons. However, there are other treatment options available for the removal of a macule, or macules, for cosmetic reasons and these include:

  • Laser surgery, where the macule is zapped away
  • Cryosurgery, where it's frozen away
  • Bleaching or peeling agents

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