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  5. Freckles On Face & Body: What, Why, Removal & Prevention

Has a sultry beach vacation ever left reddish or light brown circular spots on your face? There are high chances that these are harmless freckles, which usually develop on fair skin after constant sun exposure.

Some women feel freckles add to their beauty, while others want to get rid of them. In this post, we will tell you how to differentiate between freckles and other dark spots on the face and body. We will also cover various treatment options for freckles.

1. What Are Freckles?

Freckles are harmless clusters of tiny brown or reddish spots on the skin caused due to sun exposure. They are about 1 - 2 mm in size and usually appear on the face, neck, arms, back and chest. In most cases, they fade away during the winter months. People with a fair complexion, red hair and green eyes are more prone to freckles. [1]

2. What Causes Freckles?

A. Sun Exposure

Freckles, also called ephelides, are caused due to prolonged exposure to the sun, which leads to a spike in melanin (brown skin pigment) and melanocytes (melanin cells).

B. Role Of Genetics

Freckles in some people can be hereditary. The human body can produce two types of melanin - Eumelanin and Pheomelanin. The type of melanin that your body produces depends on a major freckle gene called MC1R [2].

Eumelanin protects the skin from harmful UV rays and is produced in people with dark skin, hair and eyes. Pheomelanin is produced in people with lighter skin, hair and eyes.

3. Difference Between Freckles, Lentigines (Age Spots Or Sun Spots) And Moles

Freckles are often confused with other pigmented spots. They differ from solar lentigines (age spots or sun spots) [3] and Melanocytic Nevus [4] (moles or birthmarks) in appearance as well as longevity. Take a look at the image and table below to understand the difference:

 

Freckles

Lentigines, age spots or sun spots

Moles

Structure

Multiple, tiny brown, flat spots

Larger and defined brown spots

Flat to slightly bumped brown spots

Cause

Sun exposure and genetics

Sun exposure

Skin cells grow in cluster

Size

1-2 mm

Less than 6 mm

2mm or more

Age group

Can appear in children and adults

Appear in elderly people

Present from birth or can develop in teenage

Who is prone?

Light skinned people are prone to freckles

People with any skin color can develop

People with any skin color can develop

Seasonal changes

Usually fade away in winter

Usually remain the same

Can remain or disappear

4. Treatment For Freckles

Freckles are usually harmless and do not need medical intervention. But a variety of treatments are available to lighten their appearance. However, freckles reappear due to sun exposure. Skincare experts believe that regular sunscreen application goes a long way in preventing freckles.

Consult a certified dermatologist and consider one of these methods or combination therapies to treat freckles:

A. Bleaching Creams

Use a topical bleaching cream or fading cream containing ingredients like kojic acid or hydroquinone (in a concentration of 2%). When used over time, they have the capacity to lighten freckles. 

Note:

Always perform a patch test before applying on your face directly as they may cause burning or dryness.

B. Retinoids

Retinoids [5] are vitamin A derivatives that have skin lightening power. They function by absorbing harmful UV-B radiation. Side effects of retinoids include redness, irritation and sensitivity.

C. Cryosurgery

This is an in-office treatment that involves freezing the freckles with liquid nitrogen. Cryosurgery is safe and seldom causes scarring. However, it may cause bleeding or hypo-pigmentation [6].

D. Laser

Laser treatment or light therapy [7] involves the use of light to target freckled skin. It is effective at getting rid of freckles but can cause side effects like redness or itchiness. Consult your dermatologist before starting a session.

E. Chemical Peels

Chemical peels [8] rely on chemicals like glycolic acid or lactic acid to exfoliate the skin. Top layer of the darkened skin is removed so that a new and fresh layer pushes up. There may be temporary stinging and redness that fade away.

F. Sunscreen

Sunscreen cannot treat the existing freckles but can prevent its further development. The best sunscreens are the ones with SPF 30 or higher. Use it at all times during the year. Apply it 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours.

G. Home Remedies

Home remedies may not be as effective as other treatments. However, people have been using them to minimize pigmentation. None of them are scientifically proven, but here are a couple of remedies you can try:

1. Lemon

Lemon juice contains Vitamin C or ascorbic acid that is an excellent skin lightening agent.

2. Honey

Honey contains flavonoids that inhibit tyrosinase [9] activity and reduce the appearance of freckles.

3. Yogurt

Yogurt contains lactic acid which works like a tyrosinase inhibitor.

4. Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera inhibits the tyrosinase activity, thereby reducing the production of melanin.

5. How To Prevent Freckles? 

  • Use a sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or above
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours while you are out in the sun
  • Avoid stepping out when the sun’s rays are at their peak (10 am to 4 pm)
  • Wear sun-protective clothing and hats

6. Makeup Tips For People With Freckles

  • Start with cleansing and moisturizing.
  • Pick a sheer foundation as anything opaque can make the freckles look muddy.
  • Choose products that match your skin undertone.
  • Conceal your freckles with a good concealer.

7. Can People Of Any Race Have Freckles, Or Is It Just White People?

Although freckles are most common in skin types 1 and 2 of the Fitzpatrick scale, it can be found in all ethnicities.

What Is The Fitzpatrick Scale?

The Fitzpatrick scale [10] or the Fitzpatrick skin type test is a classification for human skin color, developed by Thomas Fitzpatrick in 1975.

  • Type 1 - It never tans but always burns
  • Type 2 - It tans to an extent and usually burns
  • Type 3 - Tans uniformly and burns mildly
  • Type 4 - Tans to moderate brown and burns minimally
  • Type 5 - Easily tans (dark brown) and rarely burns
  • Type 6 - Tans heavily and never burns

8. Do Freckles Cause Skin Cancer?

Most freckles or moles are benign. Some brown spots on the face and neck may be cancerous or malignant [11]. Lentigo maligna melanoma is a common type of skin cancer that is presented in the small tanned spots on the skin.

Observe if the freckle is developing an irregular border or already has one. Immediate medical attention is needed in such cases and diagnosis for cancer starts with a biopsy.

9. When To See A Doctor?

Freckles are harmless in most cases. People with freckles are sensitive to the sun. So it is important to protect your skin while stepping outdoors. Consult a dermatologist if a freckle:

  • Bleeds
  • Itches
  • Changes in size, shape or color

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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