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Freckles: Causes and Management

Dr. Kanu Verma 91% (204 ratings)
MBBS, MD - Dermatology
Dermatologist, Delhi  •  15 years experience
Freckles: Causes and Management

Skin complexion varies and is caused by the skin pigmentation known as ‘melanin’, produced by cells called melanocytes, which gives skin the colour. The more amount of melanin, the darker the complexion. Melanin has a protective effect against sun exposure, as it reduces damage caused by the sun on the skin. It is proven that people with a darker complexion (with more melanin) are less prone to damage from sun exposure.

What are they? Freckles are cells that contain more amount of melanin compared to the surrounding areas. It is a common sight where some people have small, tiny black/brown spots on their faces. These spots may also be present on the hands, elbows, neck, back, etc., but are most obvious in the face. These are known as freckles.

Causes: Freckles are very common, and they are triggered by exposure to sunlight. The melanocytes absorb the sun and produce more melanin, thereby causing freckles. They are a natural reaction of the skin to the sun.

  • It runs in families, and children are likely to have freckles if the parents had them.

  • It also depends on complexion – fair people are more prone to have freckles than dark people.

  • Tanning, whether done by the sun or in a salon, also increases the chances of having freckles.

  • In some people, the freckles appear in the summer and disappear in the winter.

  • While some precancerous lesions may start off as tiny brown spots and be mistaken for freckles, freckles per se are not cancerous.

Management: While there are stories that freckles are angel kisses, they are not true. Freckles do not bring any good luck charm and can be prevented and avoided to improve overall skin and esthetic appeal.

Prevention is the first option, and if you are genetically disposed to have freckles, it is best to take measures that can reduce freckles. Avoiding or reducing sun exposure and using good sun protection can help in reducing the number of freckles and the darkness of the freckles.

Freckles can be treated by one of the following:

  1. Topical Creams- Though widely used, these contain bleaching agents which act on the entire skin and not just the freckles. Retin-A is one of the widely used products.

  2. Laser- Considered the best method for freckle removal, a beam of the laser is used to get rid of the unwanted melanocytes which produce melanin. This not only reduces freckles, it also improves skin tone and colour.

  3. Cryotherapy- Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the melanin-producing cells, thereby removing freckles.

If you have freckles, try these measures for getting rid of them. Once that is done, preventing freckle formation with limiting sun exposure and sun protection is extremely essential. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult a dermatologist.

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