Last Updated December 20th, 2021
What Is Melanin?
Melanin is a natural pigment produced by special cells called melanocytes. This pigment is responsible for giving human skin, hair, and eyes their color. Those who have more melanin in their skin are dark-skinned and those with more in their hair are brunettes or black-haired. The function of melanin is to protect you from sun damage. Hence, human communities living in tropical regions naturally developed darker skin as compared to those inhabiting temperate or extreme latitudes. For the same reasons, those portions of your skin that receive greater sun exposure will naturally turn darker than the rest of your skin.
What Are Freckles And What Do They Look Like?
You may have noticed that some people have a scattering of small tan-colored or brown spots on their skin, often on the face but generally on any section of skin that regularly sees sunlight. There may be a few spots or dense clusters of them. These are flat and, in terms of texture, no different from the skin surrounding them. The exact coloring of the spots may vary from light tan to a darker or more reddish brown.
If you have freckles, you may find that they sometimes fade and then return. This is normal. Fading occurs usually during the winter months when you may be spending more time indoors and when the sun is not as strong as during the summer. In the summer, especially if you spending time outdoors, your freckles will become more prominent.
Freckles are easily mistaken for age spots or liver spots. Both are caused by sun exposure. However, the latter is usually related to aging and do not have the tendency to fade and deepen with changing patterns of sun exposure. If you have liver spots, they will stay as they are.
Why Do I Have Freckles?
Your freckles are composed of areas of excessive melanin production. They are formed when your skin is exposed to sunlight, particularly ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The action of producing excess melanin is a protective mechanism, intended to shield the skin from UV-induced damage which can even lead to skin cancer.
Who Is Most Likely To Get Them?
Not everyone has freckles. Some are more likely than others to develop them. People who have them do not have more melanocytes in their skin than someone who does. Instead, their melanocytes are producing more melanin in certain patches, resulting in the visible spots. Here are the factors that make you more likely to have freckles:
- These spots can appear in individuals of all races and ethnicities. However, they are more likely to appear on the lighter skin.
- If you have red hair, it is likely that you have freckles as well.
- Sometimes, the tendency to develop freckles runs in families. This means that the trait is heritable, at least in some cases.
- If you already have the tendency to develop freckles, you may notice that more of them appear when you have recently undergone artificial tanning or when you have spent long periods of time out in the sun.
What Are The Different Types Of Freckles?
The medical term for a freckle is ‘ephilis’; the plural version being ‘ephilides’. Freckles can be of two types, mainly. Simple freckles are usually round in form and small. Sunburn freckles tend to be larger, irregular in form and do not fade in the winter.
Should I Be Concerned?
Most often freckles are benign. That is another way of saying that they are harmless and not likely to pose any threat to your health. However, if you have unusual freckles or ones with unusual pigmentation, there is a possibility that they might lead to melanoma which is a form of skin cancer. The best way to find out for sure is to consult a dermatologist and undergo some tests. If the dermatologist thinks that there is cause for concern, you will be asked to provide a skin sample from a likely site displaying a malignant behavior. This sample will undergo a biopsy. It will be examined under a microscope in order to conclusively determine whether its cells are malignant or cancerous.
Do they require treatment?
That depends on how you feel about them because freckles in themselves are healthy and completely harmless. Some people find them very attractive and prefer to keep them rather than looking for ways to lighten them. Others may be embarrassed and may want to seek treatments that can help to get rid of these spots. If you belong to the latter group, there are a few alternatives available.
Cosmetic dermatology offers methods such as laser treatment and chemical peels to help you get rid of freckles. Alternatively, you may prefer to opt for natural methods using organic ingredients. Home remedies recommend using easily available natural ingredients like lemon juice,
buttermilk, and sake wine to fade freckles.
Of course, you should also take care to protect your skin from sun exposure in order to prevent more freckles from appearing. Try wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen with appropriate SPF protection. Avoid tanning beds. Having said that, if your skin has the tendency to produce freckles, it may be hard to get rid of them completely.
Freckles represent your skin’s attempt to protect itself from sun-related damage. Think of them as a natural sunscreen. However, you will still need to use sunscreen to protect your skin more effectively. If you are concerned about the spots on your face, then show them to a dermatologist, especially if they are unusually colored such as pinkish or red in color.
Dos and Don'ts
- Even though they are not cancerous in nature, a presence of a lot of freckles indicates high exposure to UV rays in the sunlight. Such individuals should get their skin checked once a year at least.
- People with freckles should apply more sunscreen, 2-3 times a day if spending the entire day outdoors.
- They should also use topical anti-oxidant creams as a precautionary measure against cancer.
- Exfoliate daily or multiple times a day to shed dead skin cells and keep your skin healthy and new.
- Consider freckles as a mark of ugliness. More and more people with freckles are embracing their natural skin attributes and skipping make-up.
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