Do You Have Freckles or Sun Spots? Here’s How to Tell the Difference

July 07, 2022
Kate Marin
By: Kate Marin | by L'Oréal
Person with freckles

There are two types of pigmented spots that can appear on your skin after too much sun exposure — freckles and sun spots. And while they both can be caused by the sun, they aren’t the same. So, what makes a freckle different from a sun spot? To answer these questions, and to find out how to identify sun damage, we turned to Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist and expert. 

How to Spot the Difference Between Freckles and Sun Spots

Freckles are usually dusted across the nose, cheeks, chest and arms. When it comes to spotting the difference between a freckle and a sun spot, Dr. Engelman explains exactly what you should be looking for. “Freckles are highly active cells that have an increased production of melanin,” she says. Melanin is what gives the skin color, and the cells that contain too much of this pigment-causing compound are what produce freckles. Dr. Engelman explains 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 are caused by exposure to the sun but are typically larger in size than freckles. “After time in the sun, our cells’ melanin production goes into overdrive trying to combat UV/UB damage,” says Dr. Engelman. “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 important as sun spots are signs of our cells attempting to fight off sun damage.

Are Freckles a Sign of Sun Damage?

“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. But, if you’re an adult with freckles, or they developed in your adulthood, Dr. Engelman says that this could indicate sun damage, and in turn, put you at an increased risk for skin cancer.

How You Can Help Prevent Freckles and Sun Spots

To prevent freckles from forming, “be hyper-vigilant with sunscreen and protective gear to limit sun exposure,” Dr. Engelman advises. 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 morning (we love the La Roche-Posay Anthelios UV Correct Face Sunscreen SPF 70 with Niacinamide), reapply throughout the day and wear protective clothing when you know you’ll be in the sun.



La Roche-Posay Anthelios UV Correct Face Sunscreen SPF 70 with Niacinamide



Photo: Chaunte Vaughn 


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