Freckles are tiny spots usually seen on people with fair and light skin. You probably noticed them on your or someone else’s cheeks. Freckles are natural and completely harmless. People have mixed opinions about freckles; for some of them freckles are tiny imperfections on their faces, while some individuals consider that freckles make them more beautiful. The truth is; although we all know how they look like, we don’t know what they represent and why we get them. The purpose of this article is to provide useful information about freckles.
The word freckle derives from Middle English freken, which in turn, originated in Old Norse freknur, meaning freckled. It is assumed that speakers of Old English and Old Norse were prone to formation of freckles.
Freckles – Overview
Freckles are defined as flat, tanned, and circular spots. They vary in size, but usually they are quite small and seem like gentle dots on person’s face. These dots are multiple and spread across individual’s face, usually cheeks and nose. However, they can also appear on back, arms, chest and shoulders as well.
Freckles are sometimes called ephelis and they can appear in people as young as 1 or 2 years of age, as well as in adults. Most freckles on someone’s skin are usually uniform in color. For example, different people may develop freckles of different colors. These tiny dots may be yellow, reddish, tan, light brown, brown, or black. Basically, they are just a few shades darker than the surrounding skin of the affected person.
Freckles usually become darker during summer due to sun exposure. On the other hand, they are somewhat lighter during cold winter months.
What Causes Freckles?
If you are prone to freckles, your parents probably have something to do with it. Genes play a big role in development of freckles and if one of the parents was prone to these dots, the chances are high their child will be too. They are most common in people with blond or red hair and fair skin.
What, exactly, causes freckles? That’s the question that most people affected by these dots ask. The answer may not surprise you. Freckles appear when melanin (pigment that gives your skin its natural color) isn’t distributed evenly. Certain areas on your skin have more melanin than others and that’s why they appear darker than the surrounding skin.
Are Freckles Caused by Sun Damage?
But what does sunlight have to do with this problem? If you are prone to appearance of freckles, then you have probably noticed that they appear somewhat darker during summer or whenever you spend too much time on sun. For example, if you spend all day outside without sunscreen then your freckles will become dark and you can even notice they multiplied. This happens when sun’s harmful UV rays “hit” your skin. The epidermis or the outermost layer of the skin thickens and, in turn, melanocytes (cells that produce pigment) produce higher levels of melanin, which darkens freckles on your skin.
However, sun exposure isn’t the only cause for formation of freckles on your body. Combination of both factors; sun exposure and genetics, determine how freckles will show up. Two people who spend the same period of time exposed to sun have equal chances to develop freckles. However, reaction of individual’s body to sunlight is what makes the difference whether the person will develop freckles or not.
Types of Freckles
Freckles are divided into two basic groups: simple freckles and sunburn freckles. Simple freckles are usually small, tan and round. However, sunburn freckles tend to be darker with irregular borders, and are in most cases bigger than simple freckles. Sunburn freckles usually appear on the upper back region and shoulders; which are actually the places where people’s sunburns are the most severe.
Ephelides is medical term for freckles, as mentioned above; the term refers to spots that are flat and can be brown, reddish and they typically appear during sunny months. These freckles usually affect people with light complexions and are usually hereditary trait. People with red hair and green eyes are more prone to these freckles than others. These freckles belong to the group of simple freckles.
Representatives of sunburn freckles or lentigines are age spots. Unlike simple freckles, these spots don’t lighten in winter. Despite the name age spots, these freckles are, actually, result of long-term sun exposure. People older than 50 years old are usually more prone to development of these spots, but younger individuals can develop age spots as well.
You should bear in mind that freckles and even age spots are harmless.
Can I Prevent Freckles from Appearing?
We can’t, actually, change our genetic component and magically stop freckles from showing up on our skin that easily. However, since their appearance is closely related to sun exposure, we can keep that “part” under control to some extent. For example:
- Never leave your home without sunscreen or moisturizing cream with SPF – it’s important to protect your skin from sun’s UV rays even when it’s not summer
- Wear hats and sunglasses
- Wear clothes made of natural fabrics
- Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Stay indoors or seek shade.
Are There any Available Treatments for Freckles?
Treatments available for freckles are intended to make them less visible and minimize their appearance. They include:
- Applying products formulated for bleaching and lightning skin – for example, Solvaderm’s Juvabrite skin brightening complex is an effective treatment option for people looking to lighten dark spots without using harsh ingredients. The product eliminates blemishes and dark spots caused by sun exposure. With the regular usage, Juvabrite restores skin’s natural tone and evens out the texture. In turn, skin looks fresh, radiant, even, and healthy. Due to natural content that also includes antioxidant Vitamins, the product also has anti-aging properties. Juvabrite will help minimize appearance of freckles, especially the sunburn freckles type. It’s very easy to apply; after cleansing apply a thin layer to affected area twice a day (morning and night). After regular usage, Juvabrite’s effects are seen as early as two weeks, while dramatic results are noticed after 12 weeks.
- Cryosurgery – the procedure is done in physician’s office and it includes a light freeze with liquid nitrogen. However, not all freckles respond to freezing and burning.
- Laser treatment – lasers help lighten and decrease their appearance, however, sometimes more treatments are needed to achieve desired results.
- Photofacials or Intense Pulse Light treatments – people usually compare it to laser treatments. Photo facial includes intense light source.
- Chemical peels – they can also lighten freckles and minimize severity of their appearance.
Are Moles and Freckles the Same Thing?
People usually associate moles with freckles but they are different. According to Cambridge University Hospitals freckles are often temporary and they are either caused by sun (sunburn freckles) or they become stronger and more visible when the person is exposed to sun’s UV rays. On the other hand, moles are darker than freckles and in some cases bigger. Moreover, they are only indirectly related to sun. Some people are even born with moles.
Sunburn Freckles Prevalence Study
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies that evaluate prevalence of freckles and pigmented lesions in adults, and children as well. This inspired scientists McLean DI and Gallagher RP from Division of Dermatology, University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The scientists assessed the prevalence of freckles and moles in children. In order to do so, six trained nurses examined 1592 Vancouver schoolchildren aged between 6 and 18 of different origins:
- 1146 white children of European origin
- 378 Asian children
- 68 Indo-Pakistani children.
The prevalence of pigmented areas, freckles and moles was about 28%. Results of the study, which were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, also showed that children of European origin had a higher prevalence of freckles than children from other ethnic groups. This is because European children have paler and lighter skin that is more prone to freckles, spots etc.
Freckles are quite common and we usually develop them at a young age. They come and go i.e. they are more noticeable during summer while they lighten during winter months. Freckles are harmless and aren’t a sign of some skin disease, however other skin problems appear on our skin in shape of freckles and spots which means if you have doubts it would be ideal to get it checked out. Some people consider freckles as sign of beauty and “decorations” on their face, other people feel uncomfortable having dots on their cheeks. If you want to minimize their appearance, there are various treatments you can try, including topical bleaching treatments.