Ask the Expert: How Should You Care for Freckles?
Looking in the mirror after a day spent in the sun, you notice a few additional freckles lining your cheeks and nose. They look like flat, brown spots but do you know exactly what freckles are and why they appear? If the answer’s no, you’ll want to keep reading. Ahead, we tapped our consulting experts to dish out the ultimate freckles care guide. Read on to discover what a freckle is, what causes freckles to appear, and how you should take care of them!
What Are Freckles?
Do you have fair skin? Chances are you’re no stranger to freckles. That’s because, according to plastic surgeon Dr. Peter Schmid, freckles typically develop in individuals with very fair skin. Freckles (also known as ephelides) look like flat, brown circular spots and they’re typically small in size. They’re a summertime staple, since exposure to UV rays can cause them to form. Just like the evening heat, they tend to fade as the seasons change and the temperature drops. Some people even like the way they look (going so far as drawing in faux freckles on their cheeks) while others find them to be unsightly.
Why Do Freckles Appear?
Freckles are caused by an increase in melanin. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can stimulate the skin’s pigment-forming cells to produce more melanin. Sensing harm from damaging UV rays, your body’s melanin production kicks into overdrive which can result in a tan or small patches of freckles. As mentioned, freckles are most common in people with a fair complexion.
While exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause freckles to appear, freckles can also be genetic. In youth, freckles can be genetic and not indicative of sun damage,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman explains. If you’ve noticed freckles on your skin as a young child without any prolonged sun exposure, your freckles may be due to a genetic predisposition.
Are Freckles a Cause for Concern?
Freckles, for the most part, are harmless. When you should become concerned is if your freckles begin to change in appearance. “If a freckle (which in fact may not be a freckle) darkens, changes in size or shape, or has any other ‘change,’ it’s best to be evaluated by a dermatologist,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali says. A dermatologist can use special tools like dermoscopy to examine it. “I encourage all patients to regularly take photos of their skin spots and track any new moles or lesions that they think may be changing.”
What’s the Difference Between Freckles, Moles & Birthmarks?
Most people think that birthmarks, moles, and freckles are interchangeable, but they’re all different. “Birthmarks are moles present at birth or in the early childhood years as a red or blue-ish vascular or pigmented lesion,” Dr. Bhanusali says. “A common birthmark named the ‘stork’s bite’ is a reddish patch at the base of an infant’s neck.” As we mentioned, freckles are pigmented speckles that appear often in response to ultraviolet light. According to Dr. Bhanusali, moles can be flat, round, dome-shaped, elevated or irregular. Regardless of whether you have a freckle, mole or birthmark, it’s important to keep your eye on all marks on your skin. “All lesions should be evaluated medically due to their predisposition to advance to cancer at a later age,” Dr. Bhanusali says.
How to Care for Freckled Skin
Freckles are a marker of significant sun exposure and fair complexion—both of which can heighten your risk for developing skin cancer. Below, we’re sharing expert-approved tips for taking care of freckled skin.
Wear Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen: You may like the way your freckles look, but that’s no reason to stay outdoors exposed to harmful UV rays without protection. It’s vital to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher whenever you are outdoors, and reapply at least every two hours. Wear sunscreen even if the sun is not shining brightly, as UV light still penetrates through clouds and reflects off water. Apply sunscreen (generously) and frequently to all areas of exposed skin, especially after you have been swimming or sweating. For the best line of protection, pair your sunscreen use with additional sun protection measures such as seeking shade and wearing protecting clothing.
Stay in the Shade: Limiting sun exposure during the peak hours can make a difference. When the skin is exposed to high levels of heat, it triggers melanin activity, resulting in more defined freckles and spots. The rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must go out into direct sunlight, opt for broad-spectrum sunscreen, protective sunglasses, a hat, and long sleeves.
Exfoliate Your Skin: Freckles often fade in intensity on their own over time, especially if sun exposure is limited. If you’d like your freckles to appear less noticeable, exfoliate your skin regularly. Exfoliating encourages surface cell turnover, which helps the skin to renew itself.