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What are Freckles?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Freckles are pigmented skin cells that are found most commonly on fair-skinned individuals. They are genetic in nature and most common in children prior to puberty, though many adults have them too. Freckles are small, individual tan spots that contain more melanin than other skin cells. They do not indicate any sort of skin disorder or disease in a normal capacity.

People with fair skin have less melanin, or pigment, in their skin cells. This factor is almost always indicated by both fair skin and light colored hair, frequently red and sometimes blonde. Exposure to the sun can actually enhance the appearance of freckles because the body may produce more melanin in response to overexposure. Melanin acts as the skin’s protection against the sun’s rays, which causes a person’s freckles to darken.

Freckles are particularly common in children, but often the onset of puberty causes the body to begin to produce more melanin. If melanin is produced evenly throughout the skin, it causes the freckles to fade. While many children with freckles will lose them with puberty, some will have this characteristic their whole lives.

The most common location on the body for freckles to form is the nose and cheeks, though many people have them on their shoulders, arms and other areas that are frequently exposed to the sun. In some cases, they are sporadic, individual spots, and sometimes there are several grouped together, making them appear larger and cover a greater portion of the skin.

A dermatologist would use the term ephelides to describe freckles. Many people visit a dermatologist in hopes of achieving a reduction or removal of these spots because they are uncomfortable with their appearance. While there are few options for this, consulting a dermatologist is the best way to learn more.

In the event that a person notices a change in his or her freckles or a birthmark, mole, or other skin pigmentation, he or she should visit a dermatologist to assess your risk for skin cancer. Contrary to popular belief, a person with freckles is at no greater risk for developing skin cancer than someone without them, so long as he or she takes the proper precautions when exposed to the sun.

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Discussion Comments

By anon957816 — On Jun 22, 2014

@Anon190204: I have exactly that too! Should I be seeing the doctor?

By myharley — On Nov 18, 2012

I am a natural redhead with lots of freckles. My whole life I have had to be careful when I am out in the sun because I have such fair skin and burn easily.

I really don't mind my freckles because I think they are unique and something that a lot of people don't have. When I wear makeup, they are barely visible, but if I go without makeup, you can tell that I have a lot of freckles.

I feel kind of bad for people who want to get rid of their freckles. Since they aren't harmful, and they don't increase your chance of getting skin cancer, I think it is better to embrace them and be proud of them.

By SarahSon — On Nov 17, 2012

My son does not have light skin, yet he has freckles all over his face. He is in his mid 20's and these have not faded with time. If he is out in the sun, they look even more pronounced. He doesn't like them, but I think they give him a younger, boyish look. Someday he might appreciate that, but for now he wishes he could remove the freckles or they would at least lighten up.

By Mykol — On Nov 16, 2012
@healthy4life -- Oh those age spots that show up are so annoying, and yet I don't think there is much you can do about them without spending some money. I started to see them pop up once I turned 40.

When I was younger I spent a lot of time out in the sun. My mom always told me I would be sorry some day, but of course, I didn't believe her. Now I wish I would have listened to her, or at least taken more precaution when I was out in the sun.

I am sure if I was really desperate, and had the money, I could get rid of the freckles, but I guess I just need to accept them as part of the aging process.

By LisaLou — On Nov 16, 2012

@OeKc05 -- I have heard that applying lemon juice will help lighten freckles. I have never personally tried this so can't so that it works for sure, but I remember hearing about this more than once.

By StarJo — On Sep 23, 2012

@OeKc05 – The sun causes freckles. It's just a fact. If you can't stay indoors or in the shade, you need to be wearing a wide-brimmed hat to totally shield your face from the rays.

If you just want to lighten them instead of preventing them, you can put lemon juice on your face and leave it for fifteen minutes. I've heard that this can help, though I don't see how it keeps from fading the skin around your freckles.

Also, when you choose a foundation, pick one that matches the skin around the freckles instead of one that falls between the two shades. Lighter makeup will mask the appearance of freckles. Applying powder on top of it further hides them.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 23, 2012

What is the best way to lighten freckles? I have too many of them on my face. I wear sunscreen when I go out for long periods of time, but I still seem to develop more freckles.

By feasting — On Sep 22, 2012

@anon274355 – Though the sun will often fade freckles as it makes you tan, in some people, it actually causes more freckles to form. I have fair skin, and though I can get a slightly golden glow during the summer, it is always dotted with freckles.

In fact, the freckles I do have get even darker, instead of fading into the surrounding tan. I guess it's just a curse of being fair-skinned.

By healthy4life — On Sep 21, 2012

@anon190204 – Those freckles that are uniting are called “age spots.” I'm thirty-three, and I have them already on my cheekbones.

I spent a lot of time in the swimming pool over the past few summers, and in just the past three years, I've been seeing these brown spots. They do look like several freckles bleeding into each other.

I've been told that they are completely natural, and everyone gets them with age. Even one seventy-year-old lady I know who has avoided the sun her whole life has these age spots all over her hands. She started out as a freckly teenager, but the freckles didn't grow together until she was in her forties.

By amypollick — On Jun 11, 2012

@Jessie: Anyone, tanned or not, can get freckles. The reason it seems redheads have more freckles is because they are often so fair-skinned, so freckles really stand out on their skin. But blondes or brunettes can get freckles, also, especially if they are fair-skinned. It is true that normally, fair-skinned people are most prone to freckles, but I've seen lighter-skinned black people who have them, too.

By anon274355 — On Jun 11, 2012

Oh my. I love this website. It's so informative. redheads the ones who get freckles, mostly, and why can't people with tanned skin get freckles. Is it even possible? --Jessie

By anon190204 — On Jun 25, 2011

I have always been freckly, mostly on my face arms and legs. Just recently I noticed that the freckles seems to be 'joining together' on my forehead just below my hair line, making it look brown and dirty. I am worried as i have always been a bit of a sun worshiper but in recent years I have taken extra precautions. I am 36 years old.

By blackenergy — On Nov 23, 2009

absolutely sister. you need to see a dermatologist. changes in sizes, the feel, and color of moles could indicate cancer!

By anon709 — On May 02, 2007

I am an Afircan American female who has recently noticed that several moles have been popping up, i'm still young, but moles run in my family on my fathers side...do I have anything to worry about?

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