Why Do I Have Freckles?
Article By: Dr. Jessica Wu
Freckles may be cute on children – and on such beauties as Lucy Liu, Rashida Jones and Emma Stone – but are they a sign of sun damage? Why do some people have them while others don’t? And what can you do about them if you don’t like them? If you’ve always wondered about your freckles, here’s the scoop.
What are freckles? Regardless of age or skin color, freckles are caused by UV (ultraviolet) sun rays. The number, size, and darkness of your freckles indicates how much sun damage your skin has sustained over time. While freckles themselves are harmless and are not a precursor to skin cancer, I do warn my patients with freckles to be extra diligent about using sunscreen.
Why do some people get them? People with freckles have skin pigment cells that are more sensitive to UV rays, so they produce more melanin pigment in those spots. If you have fair skin and red or blond hair, you’re also more susceptible to getting them. In addition, some people inherit a tendency to get freckles, and there is a rare skin condition – xeroderma pigmentosum – that causes extreme sun sensitivity and numerous freckles. But sun exposure is the necessary ingredient that produces freckles. Many young children have freckles because their skin is more sensitive to UV rays, not because they’re born with them. UV exposure also explains why people generally have more freckles on their faces, arms, and legs, and few or none on their buttocks (unless they’re nudists).
What can you do about them? Freckles typically get darker and multiply in the summer or with sun exposure, so if you want to minimize them, be sure to use sun protection. If your freckles are new (less than six months old), over-the-counter skin-brightening creams may help fade them. For patients who have had freckles for years, I usually recommend a combination of prescription-strength fading creams, retinoids, noninvasive laser treatments (including IPL), and/or chemical peels.
Dr Jessica Wu is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Los Angeles, California. She received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and completed her residency at the University of Southern California (USC) Medical Center. In addition to her thriving private practice, Dr Wu is also Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at USC, where she volunteers her time to teach medical students and doctors in training.