Freckles: Cute or Foreshadowing?

Freckles can definitely be cute. Imagine that cute little red-headed girl with the smattering of freckles dotting her facial features.

As more and more women are putting their makeup down and hiding their concealer and foundation, they're being celebrated for their own natural uniqueness. Women are proud of their complexions and the differences they can showcase.

Freckle-faced people are now being celebrated. But there can be a problem with that.

Freckles can foreshadow things to come. They can be a warning sign that you've spent too much unprotected time in the sun and you should be watchful of changes to your skin and be prepared for early signs of aging to appear. Your fair, freckled skin means you're probably more at risk for skin cancer.

The Truth About Freckles

The Truth About Freckles

Your tendency towards freckles is genetic, based on one of the genes that regulates your skin and hair color. They tend to go hand-in-hand with light hair and skin.

There are two kinds of freckles. One changes color as a result of sun exposure. They get lighter in the winter, and darker in the summer. The other kind doesn't change at all. Once they appear, they stay put.

Regardless of whether your freckles stay the same all year or change with the seasons, they are all the direct result of sun exposure over time. You'll never see a baby with freckles, though that would be pretty cute. They're just not born with them. If a person who is genetically-prone to freckles never went out in the daylight, freckles would never develop. "You really can't freckle unless you've had sun exposure," explains Dee Anna Glaser, MD, Chair of the Department of Dermatology at St. Louis University. "Even if you inherit that tendency, if your mom and dad were the most amazing sunscreen advocates and kept you out of the sun, you probably still wouldn't freckle."

Generally, you'll start to see freckles develop in an adolescent around the age of seven or eight.

Freckles develop as your body's means of trying to protect you from the sun. Melanin (the pigment in freckles) makes your skin more resistant to the sun's UV rays. While freckles develop because of the sun, they are not the same thing as sun damage. With sun damage, your cellular DNA actually becomes damaged, which can lead to a break down of the skin's collagen and elastin and possibly tumor growth.

They may indicate how sensitive your skin is. Those with a lot of freckles have more sensitive skin and would be more prone to developing skin cancer. Have no fear, though. The freckles, themselves, are not cancerous.

How Do Freckles Work?

How Do Freckles Work?

There are two main types of freckles: ephelides and solar lentigines.

Ephelides are the result of both genetic makeup and sun exposure.

Solar lentigines are primarily the result of sun exposure.

Ephelides appear on the face, neck, chest, and arms and develop mostly in the summertime, fading during the winter. Solar lentigines accumulate with age, especially visible after 40. They're generally found on sun-exposed areas and do not change with the seasons. They're commonly present at the sites of previous sunburns and sun damage. They also generally appear larger and darker than ephelides.

All freckles are either ephelides or solar lentigines. Not all solar lentigines are freckles. Solar lentigines includes sunspots, which can sometimes be scaly.

Be Cautious If You Have Freckles

Freckles, themselves, are always harmless, but could suggest an increased risk of skin cancer. If you have pale skin and freckles, you're definitely at a higher risk of developing skin cancer than someone of your same skin tone that doesn't have them. Always keep an eye on any pigmentation you have, and know your ABCDE's of skin safety! If you note any changes at all in your freckles, have them examined.

If you have a lot of freckles, signs of skin cancer may commonly be ignored or passed over, as they may blend in with your freckles. Those with freckle-prone skin are encouraged to visit their dermatologist twice yearly to be checked. Your derm doctor will be able to spot the difference between a freckle and a lentigo (sunspot). "Healthy freckles, with no underlying damage, should intensify when you're getting more rays, and fade - and even disappear - when you're in the sun less," says Francesca Fusco, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "Sunspots, on the other hand, are going to be darker than your freckles and stay dark no matter how much exposure you get."

Caring For Freckled Skin

Caring For Freckled Skin

While caring for all skin is important, people especially sensitive to the sun want to take extra steps. A good skin care regimen is essential. Find a good one with the added bonus of offering protection against sun damage and skin cancers. Topical probiotics can act as a protective shield and strengthen the skin's ability to repair itself, optimizing the skin's functionality. Recent studies are telling us that skin bacteria may play a role in inhibiting the growth of some cancers, producing a chemical that kills several types of cancer cells but doesn't appear to be toxic to normal cells.

Because of their sensitivity, people with freckles should also be cautious when out in the sun. Cover as much of your skin as possible with UV protective (UVP) clothing and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect both your face and neck. Protective sunglasses will help cover the area around your sensitive eyes.

It's important to incorporate sunscreen into your daily regimen, even if you're not planning on lounging by the pool. Your skin is exposed to UV rays on a regular basis, even just headed to and from work. Carefully applying sunscreen is especially important if you're spending any amount of time in the sun. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends you choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30. Apply it generously 15 minutes before going outside to ensure it's ready to do its job with you hit the beach. Apply it at least every two hours. More if you're swimming or sweating.

This also includes the wintertime! Protecting yourself from the sun is usually the last thing on your mind when you're bundled up to the hilt to keep warm, but your face still receives plenty of UV rays in the winter, too.