Freckles vs. Dark Spots: How to Spot the Difference
Can you spot the difference between a freckle and a sunspot? Board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Dendy Engelman explains how to differentiate between these two similar dots, and what causes each, ahead!
Oh, freckles—you either love them or you hate them. You may have had them all your life, or perhaps you only had them when you were younger, but do you really understand what causes them to emerge? Sure, they tend to surface after long days in the sun (and especially during summer), but why do they only find a home on some complexions and not others?
We all know that pigmented dots are not the best things to find lingering on our complexions, and that it is best to stay out of the sun in order to avoid these spots from surfacing. So, what makes a freckle different than a dark spot or sun spot? Why does one raise concern, and the other not so much? To answer these burning questions, we turned to board certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Dendy Engelman. For a full breakdown on freckles, sun spots, and how to spot sun damage, read on!
Are Freckles a Sign of Sun Damage?
Short answer: yes and no. “In youth, freckles can be genetic and not indicative of sun damage,” Dr. Engelman explains. If you only had freckles when you were younger, this may apply to you. However, if you’re an adult with freckling—or if you freckled into adulthood—Dr. Engelman explains that this could indicate sun damage and in turn put you at an increased risk for skin cancer.
In youth, freckles can be genetic and not indicative of sun damage.
Freckles or not, it’s important to wear Broad Spectrum SPF 15 or higher as directed every single day, and reapply at least every two hours. To take your sun protection a step further, apply sunscreen religiously AND take additional preventative measures such as wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and avoiding peak sun hours when the ray’s are strongest.
How to Spot the Difference Between Freckles and Sun Spots
We all know the tell-tale sign of freckles— they’re usually dusted across the nose, cheeks, chest, and arms. But when it comes to spotting the difference between a freckle and a sun spot, what should we be looking for? Many times, sun spots and freckles can look alike, but Dr. Engelman explains exactly what we should be looking for. Before diving right in, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
“Freckles are highly active cells that have an increased production of melanin,” Dr. Engelman explains. Melanin, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is what gives the skin color, and the cells that contain too much of this pigment-causing compound are what produce freckles. Dr. Engelman continues, explaining that “when exposed to the sun, [these cells] can darken and fade with age.” The presence of these cells is genetic, so in many cases freckles—especially if you spend time exposed to the sun’s rays—are unavoidable.
Sun spots, like freckles, are caused from exposure to the sun, but are typically larger in size. “After time in the sun, our cells melanin production goes into overdrive trying to combat UV/UB damage,” Dr. Engelman says. “When a cell overproduces melanin, it causes the area to look darker, thus forming a solar lentigo or sun spot.” Again, the importance of practicing safe-sun habits is so clearly important: sun spots are signs of our cells attempting to fight off sun damage, so helping to protect your skin from that damage is a crucial preventative measure.
How You Can Help Avoid Freckles and Sun Spots
“If you don't like [your freckles],” Dr. Engelman states, “be hyper-vigilant with sunscreen and protective gear to limit sun exposure.” Even if you inherited hyperactive cells that have an increased production of melanin, avoiding the sun can help keep your freckles from surfacing. The same goes for sun spots. Reach for a Broad Spectrum sunscreen every single day, reapply throughout the day, and wear protective clothing when you know you’ll be in the sun. Following these steps can help protect your skin from sun damage.