Everything You Need to Know About Freckles

Everything You Need to Know About Freckles

Introduction

Freckles are pretty cute. Some of us even draw them on so we can achieve that cute freckled look that we envy so much. We associate them with a healthy sunkissed tan and maybe even a sign of youth. It’s quite interesting that freckles are actually a form of hyperpigmentation, it’s probably the one form of hyperpigmentation that we wouldn’t mind or might actually want! 

But what are freckles actually? Some people are born with them, some people develop them later in life. Why is this so? And how do they actually develop?

What are freckles?

Freckles occur as flat, round spots in varying brown and beige shades. They are usually the size of a dot you would make with a marker pen. These little spots are scattered over the face and are more commonly found across the cheeks and bridge of the nose. They are generally of the same color but there can be variations depending on your skin tone. Some freckles appear browner, while others show up with a redder hue or it can also be more yellowish. Freckles can darken in the summer months when someone is exposed more to the sun and they may become slightly lighter during the winter season. The etymology of the word “freckle” has a pretty interesting history. It is derived from the Middle English word “freken” which was derived from an Old Norse word “freknur” which means “freckled”. Perhaps the Norsemen and Old English people had people who developed freckles, leading to this word. 

Freckles are caused by a greater amount of the pigment melanin, which is in turn because of a higher number of the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. There are two categories of freckles, namely ephelides and solar lentigines. 

 

Ephelides are what we typically think of as freckles. Eplelides derives from the Greek medical term for freckle. These are often a genetic trait that is inherited within a family, and it is often found in people with fair complexions. Red and auburn hair and green eyes seem to be another predictor of hereditary freckles. Ephelides often occur during the summer months as the sun exposure increases the melanin production and hence the darkness of the freckles. Caucasians and Asians are more likely to have ephelides due to their light skin tone. 

Solar lentigines are the second type of freckles. These freckles tend to be a result of sun damage and occur later in life. These are also associated with aging, liver, and sunspots. The word solar lentigines are derived from the Latin word for lentils due to the similarity in the look of lentils and these spots, while solar refers to the sun. Solar lentigines often pop up in the areas that have been sunburnt before. They are larger than ephelides and often darker, and they can even come up as patches. The color of these is not affected by the winter or summer and stays the same level of darkness all year round. Caucasians and people above 40 are the most likely to get solar lentigines.

How Do I Know if I’m likely to get Freckles?

A number of studies have predicted the factors that will increase your chances of getting freckles. Both your environment and genetic disposition will affect whether or not you are likely to develop freckles.

The type of melanin you produce

A French study found that there were two main factors that could predict whether one would develop freckles. First is the frequency of one getting sunburn, and the second is a gene called MC1R. This gene is responsible for the production of melanin. MC1R is almost like the boss of melanocytes, it gives the instructions for melanin production. Something else you might not have known about, there are actually two kinds of melanin: pheomelanin and eumelanin.  The study found that pheomelanin is produced by people whose skin doesn’t have protection from UV rays, and these tend to be those with fairer skin, red or blonde hair, skin that doesn’t tan well, and burns. Meanwhile, people who produce eumelanin tend to have better UV protection and their typical traits are dark hair and darker-colored skin that can tan with ease. Therefore, the type of melanin that your melanocytes produce is likely to have a big impact on whether or not you will develop freckles.

Moles and freckles

Moles are different from freckles and are not really associated with the sun. They are darker than freckles and are caused by an excess of melanocytes and blood vessels. Lighter-skinned people are also more likely to get moles. Moles can be a variety of shapes and sizes, and even color with some being brown and others being pink. Moles are generally harmless. 

While freckles and moles are not inherently a health risk, the presence of moles could be a sign that you have melanoma, a form of skin cancer. It is important to check your freckles and moles if you sense something is not right. You can check the following characteristics of your moles or freckles: 

  1. Asymmetry: If you can halve the mole or freckle and they match up, it is symmetrical. Otherwise, it is asymmetrical. 
  2. Border: If the border of the mole is uneven and bumpy, this is a potential sign of a cancerous one. If it is smooth, it is probably benign. 
  3. Color: If your moles are not a uniform color and occur in a wide range of colors, that is a sign of something more serious.
  4. Diameter: If your mole is bigger than a quarter of an inch, it is potentially cancerous. 
  5. Evolving: If the mole changes in size, shape, and degree of elevation, seek a doctor’s advice. 

This simple check should be able to tell you whether or not a mole might be cancerous, and if you notice any of the above signs go see a doctor and get a diagnosis.

Conclusion

Freckles are a pretty misunderstood skin condition, with many of us assuming that it is just genetic or caused by the sun. In fact, there is a difference in types of freckles and you can track whether or not your skin is sun-damaged by considering the type of freckles you are experiencing. As a general note, if you have never had freckles and only see them appearing later in life as darker spots, they are probably a result of old sun damage. Remember to wear sunscreen with a broad-spectrum and stay out of the sun as much as you can. The sun is fun but trying to get rid of dark spots is not!

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