Freckles are a surplus of melanin in the skin. Melanin is the substance naturally found in your skin that causes it to tan or darken. When there is an overproduction of melanin, it can cause hyperpigmentation in the form of various blemishes, including brown spots, sun spots, melasma, and of course, freckling.
You can recognise freckles as flat spots on the skin – they are not raised or textured – and they can vary in colour, size, quantity and pigment intensity.
There are two types of freckles: ephelides and solar lentigines. They’re both flat, but they have different appearances and causes.
Ephelides are the genetic kind of freckles; they first show up when you’re around 2–3 years old and it’s usually after you’ve been having sun exposure.
Genetics play a large role in a person’s likelihood of developing freckles. If you are part of the approximate 2% of the world’s population with naturally red hair, you are especially likely to get freckles. This is because they are caused by a genetic variant of the MC1R gene that also gives you red hair.
You don’t have to have a certain hair or skin colour to have freckles, though. The MC1R gene variant is more common in Caucasian and Asian people, but it is possible for any ethnicity to have this variant, and therefore get freckles.
These genetic freckles commonly appear on the arms, chest, face and neck. Usually 1–2mm or bigger, they are characterised by their irregular, undefined borders and they can be red, dark brown or light brown. They can vary in intensity, too; some are quite pale or translucent looking, while others can look darker and more opaque.
These freckles can naturally go away as you age, or you may find they fade during the winter when you’re not exposed to the sun so much.
Solar lentigines are sometimes called age spots or liver spots and this type of freckling can become more prominent as you get older; they’re quite common if you’re aged 50 or older. However, many young people can have these freckles begin to appear as early as their twenties or thirties if they are consistently in the sun without UV protection.
These freckles can form anywhere on your body that gets sun exposure, such as your chest, shoulders, forearms, shins and hands, as well as your face. You’ll probably find they don’t disappear on their own and are there to stay unless treated.
Solar lentigines can range from light yellow to dark brown in colour and they tend to have clear, defined borders. These are the freckles that come about due to sun exposure and ageing.
Importantly, no type of freckle is the same thing as a mole. Freckles are flat, non-raised blotches of pigment that show up on the skin as brown spots. Moles, however, are notably raised lesions and they can pose serious health threats if malignant. It’s crucial to have moles checked by a GP.
While dermal laser treatment is effective for fading or removing clusters of hyperpigmentation – that is, get rid of freckles – moles are a different thing altogether and their removal requires an entirely different approach.
Here at Contour Clinics, we are experts in scarless mole removal and offer this treatment in-clinic to get rid of moles, lesions and skin tags. You can find out about mole removal here.