What is Freckle?
Freckle is a common skin condition among fair-skinned people. Freckles are flat, small tanned brown circular spots found on the sun-exposed areas such as face and arms. These are formed when melanocytes overproduce melanin granules (melanosomes) which change the color of the outer skin cells called (keratinocytes). They may also appear on children as young as 1 or 2 years of age.
Symptoms of Freckles
- Freckles are small and flat spots on face or any sun-exposed area like arms or neck or back.
- Tan or brown in color
- They can cover the entire face.
- They may range in size from a pinhead to the flat side of a nail
- Freckles are mostly darker in color than the rest of the skin.
- In some rare cases, skin cancer such as melanoma can be related to freckles.
- Freckles are mostly harmless and can away from its own, but if you are concerned, then you can consult a doctor.
Types of Freckles
Typically there are two types of freckles – ephelides and lentigines.
Ephelides – They are flat red or light-brown spots that usually appear on exposure to the sun or in summers and fade away with the reduction of sun exposure or in the winters. These are common in fair skinned people but may affect other skin toned people also. Use of sunblocks such as sunscreen lotion or avoiding the sun can help to reduce their development.
Lentigines or Liver spots – They are small tan, brown, or black spots which tend to be darker over years of exposure to the sun. They do not fade easily as ephelis-type freckle do. Older people tends to get liver spots mostly.
Causes of Freckles
The primary cause of freckle is exposure to the sun. Melanocytes are the skin cells which produces a pigment called melanin which gives color to the skin. On exposure to the sun or UV-B radiation aggravate melanocytes to produce more melanin, which causes darker spots on the skin called freckles. A lengthened period of exposure to the sun causes freckles to become darker and more visible.
There may also be genetical tendency to acquire freckles. Two people if exposed to the sun with same duration of time, one may get freckles and other may not. You may tend to inherit freckles genetically and are at greater risk if you are of fair complexion or with blond or red hair.
Treatment of Freckles
Although most freckles are harmless freckles may be removed for a cosmetic reason or its tendency to develop into skin cancer which is very rare. Various methods or techniques are there which can help lighten the appearance of freckles. Since the treatment varies for different people, if one treatment doesn’t work then a combination of treatments may be required for best results. Freckles can recur with repeated sun exposures. The various treatments are:
Bleaching or fading creams – You can use products containing hydroquinone and kojic acid, and these are available without prescription also. Hydroquinone of higher concentration over 2% require a prescription. You have to use them consistently over periods of months to get the result. Along with bleaching creams, if you use sun protection and avoid sun exposure, you get faster results.
Retinoids – Retinoids such as tretinoin (vitamin A acid, Retin-A), tazarotene (Tazorac), and adapalene (Differin) also may help in reducing freckles when applied consistently over a period of several months.
Cryosurgery – Some types of freckle can be treated by freezing them with liquid nitrogen. Cryosurgery is done in the physician’s office. All spots do not respond to this form of therapy.
Laser treatment – Laser can be used to lighten the appearance of the freckles. It is simple with low risk of scarring and with high success rate.
Photofacials or Intense Pulsed Light treatment – These are also very effective in lightening and removing freckles. In this method, skin care lasers and pulsed light devices deliver energy to target and destroy vascular and pigmented spots and thus reducing the coloration of freckles.
Chemical Peels – Chemical peels can also help lighten freckles.
Prevention of Freckles
If you are fair-skinned and have red hair or have that freckle causing gene, then you should avoid sun or use sun-protection. The preventive measures that you can take during exposure to the sun are:
- Use sunscreens with SPF 50.
- Use hats that are wide-brimmed (6 inches).
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Avoid going outdoors during peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Try to seek shade and stay indoors.