Freckles, also called ephelides, are small spots of melanin that gather together in the skin and usually most visible on fair complexions. They are in no way harmful to the skin nor are they signs of other health problems. The word ‘freckle’ is derived from the word ‘freken’, which was the word for an Old Norse ‘freknur’ that meant freckled.
Freckles usually are a light brown or tan color, small in size and flat. Some freckles may look larger than they are because they are overlapping and sitting on top of each other. They are genetic and can be found on any skin type. Freckles are mostly found on the face, but may also appear on any part of skin that is exposed to sun, like the shoulders.
The main cause of freckles is exposure to the sun. They get larger and darker in color the more they are in the sunlight. Sunlight not only produces freckles, but can make those already present darker. Age spots, which tend to show up later in life, are collections of skin pigment melanin that is found in the top layer of skin. Freckles as well as age spots are categorized as steps in the process of photoaging.
Type of Freckles
There are two basic freckle types – ephelides freckles and lentigines freckles. Ephelides freckles are typically round, small and tan in color. Lentigines freckles are usually a darker shade, irregular in shape and usually found on the back and shoulders where may people get a lot of sunburn. Lentigines are genetic and usually just isolated spots that are not harmful. Most visible freckles are the same in color, but on some people the color can vary: red, brown, yellow, black and tan. Freckles in general tend to become a darker shade and more noticeable after exposure to the sun and often lighter in color in the colder seasons. Some children will develop smaller brown, tan or black spots that look darker than a ephelides freckle and does not fade in colder months; this is called a lentigo simplex freckle.
Treatments for Freckles
The easiest and best treatment for freckles is prevention. Applying sunscreen every day and keeping out of the sun are both very important and key to prevention. Other precautions can include wearing clothing that is sun-protective, wearing hats with large brims and staying indoors during peak sun hours. The prevention of freckles can many times be more effective than taking steps to remove them. Cosmetic treatments for freckles can include the following:
* Chemical peels. Sometimes called derma-peeling or chemexfoliation. Both are exfoliations used to firm and smooth the skin while removing or lightening freckles.
* Retinoids. Improves and betters the overall skin, many times used with bleaching creams.
* Laser treatment. Aids in lessening, lightening or removing skin that is discolored by freckles.
* Liquid nitrogen. Often called cryosurgery and not usually used for freckles due to the fact of their small size. Liquid nitrogen freezes the freckle into a blister that can be lifted and peeled off.
* Bleaching cream. This type of cream tries to lighten the color of freckles to blend in better with the surrounding skin color.
* Light therapy. The light heats and destroys the melanin in the skin by using a high strength pulse of light.