They are more commonly seen in light skinned people, or on people who have fair or ginger hair. Freckles should not be viewed as a threat to health and have no link to cancerous moles. Both sun exposure sites and a person’s genetic make-up largely determine the placement and number of freckles on the body.
Freckles are skin cells that contain melanin, which is a skin pigment (or color) made by a chemical response when introduced to the sun’s rays. The role of melanin is to protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet sun rays, either by reflection or absorption of the sun.
Melanin production is accelerated when the sun hits the skin, as a means to protect itself from harmful rays. People with lighter skin, hair and eye color tend to have less melanin in the skin because, genetically, their ancestors would have not had large exposure to harsh sunlight, as opposed to people with darker skin, hair and eyes. When the skin has less melanin, freckles are more prevalent as the darker freckles show up against the lighter skin around it.
That is not to say that those with darker skin tones do not get freckles as well. Many darker skinned people will also produce freckles in the sun light, because there are areas on the skin that produce more melanin than others.
The most common way freckles form is through sun exposure. Melanin production is accelerated when the sun hits the skin, and this reaction is why the skin can turn light or dark brown when sunbathing, but it can also produce darker, smaller spots where the skin produces excess melanin, which in turn forms the spots known as freckles.
Genetics play an important role in the formation and susceptibility of getting freckles; if your parents have freckles it is highly likely you will also develop them. Most genetic factors for freckles come down to the color of a person’s skin; those with dark pigments tend to be less likely to get freckles while those with lighter skin are more likely. In mixed race people, if one parent has light skin and freckles and the other has not, freckles are more likely to occur.
Freckles tend to become more prevalent on the skin through the spring and summer months, due to the length and strength of the sun during these periods. It is not uncommon for freckles to fade away again throughout the autumn and winter time when sun exposure is typically at its lowest. For those with extremely light skin, hair or eyes, freckles may well be a more permanent feature, especially on the face, shoulders and arms in response to any sun exposure, even during winter times.
Areas of skin that have been covered should not produce freckles, as a true freckle will only ever happen due to sun exposure. Other marks or blemishes on the body in unexposed areas will likely not be a freckle, but rather a mole or skin tag - a freckle is completely flat whereas both other conditions can present as a raised or slightly raised bump on the skin.
Lightly colored moles that are exposed to the sun can darken and appear as a new freckle, however any mole that changes in color, size or shape should be monitored or discussed with a health care professional as this could be a sign of melanoma. Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer which can appear even on a young person’s skin if they do not take necessary precautions when exposing their skin to the harmful ultraviolet sun rays.
Occasionally, a very rare freckle can occur called axillary freckling, which is sometimes present if a person is suffering from neurofibromatosis, which is an inherited or genetic disease. This particular type of freckling will not happen outside of this disease.
While developing freckles should not be any cause for concern, if you believe that the blemishes you are developing on your skin are not freckles, you should visit a health care professional or dermatologist to check the affected area.
While some claim “a face without freckles, is like a night without stars,” other people really dislike their freckles and attempt to get rid of them. The most common and safest of these options is to wear a high strength sun screen on areas prone to freckling, as well as wearing clothes or wide brimmed hats to help cover the areas, and staying out of direct sun exposure.
This method uses certain acids to help lighten any freckling when applied frequently but must also be combined with avoiding direct sun light as well. Without avoiding the sun, repeated UV exposure will likely make freckling recur.
Laser treatments, which are used to remove tattoos, can also successfully remove freckles. It is largely successful, safe and causes no scars or discoloration to the skin. Light treatment is the use of an intense light which can lighten freckles and is also considered safe.
Commonly used to smooth lines and freshen the appearance of irregular pigments on the skin, a chemical peel can also be used to lighten freckles.