What Are Freckles and What Causes Them?

Updated on May 31, 2017
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My mother, daughter, and I all have lots of freckles—but my father, husband, and son don't have one between the three of them.




How do you get freckles? An obvious answer would be exposure to the sun, but there has to be more to it. My mother, daughter, and I all have lots of freckles, but my father, husband, and son don't have one between the three of them. Is there a genetic factor involved? Are different types of people more likely to get freckles? The answers to these questions and more are answered in this article.

Age Spots

Age spots are also known as liver spots or sun spots.
Age spots are also known as liver spots or sun spots. | Source

What is a Freckle?

Freckles are tiny flat spots that form on the skin after exposure to the sun. They are often brown or red, but can also be yellow, tan, or black. Freckles usually appear on the face, arms and shoulders—the areas that get the most sun. Common places to see a sprinkle of freckles would be across the bridge of the nose and under the eyes along the cheekbones.

The scientific name for freckles is ephelides. They are different from moles and age spots, which are slightly larger and darker spots that stay on the skin year round. Freckles often appear in the summer and fade in the winter, but not always—especially if you have a lot of them.

Are Freckles Dangerous?

Freckles are not cancerous and are not considered a skin problem. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of freckles usually means a lot of exposure to the sun. Overexposure to the sun can result in skin problems, so report any unusual spots to your doctor.

What Causes Freckles?

Melanin is what gives your skin its color or pigmentation, and it also protects you from the sun. Fair-skinned people have less melanin than people with darker complexions. For this reason, fair-skinned people are more sensitive to the sun.

Everyone has melanocytes in their skin which can produce extra melanin when exposed to the sun, specifically UV, or ultraviolet, rays. When the fair-skinned person gets sun, the extra melanin shows up as spots or freckles. The darker-skinned person already has more melanin naturally and evenly distributed to protect his skin. This does not mean the darker skinned person will never get freckles, but is less likely to do so.

Freckle Face

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Who Gets Freckles?

Anyone can get freckles, but there are some people who are more likely to freckle in the sun. You are more likely to get freckles if you:

  • Are a red-head or have light-colored hair
  • Have green or light-colored eyes
  • Have a fair complexion
  • Have a family history of freckles
  • Experience a bad sunburn

How to Get Rid of Freckles

I have learned to love and live with my freckles, but my 12-year-old daughter despises her "spots." There are ways to remove or fade freckles, but they will come back if you expose your skin to the sun again. Some popular ways to remove freckles are:

  • Hydroquinone cream - Over the counter creams work well for fading lighter freckles.
  • Dermabrasion - A dermatologist numbs your skin and uses a wheel-like tool to scrub away the freckles.
  • Laser surgery - The laser zaps away the melanin, and freckles disappear with minor possible side effects such as bruising.
  • Chemical peel - This method works well for large or dark freckles.

To prevent freckles in the first place and to protect your skin, always use sunscreen when in the sun. If you have a lot of freckles, remember this quote: "A face without freckles is like a night sky without stars."

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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    • wilderness29 profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice Hub! I always wondered why I was blessed with freckles, now I know. My uncle used to play connect the dots on my face when I was a kid!


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