Many people have freckles, but what are freckles anyway? Are they the same thing as moles and sunspots, or is there a difference? Should you be worried if you have freckles? There are so many questions you might be asking yourself, and here, we will answer all of them.
So if you are a person with freckles, there is so much you can learn about them, like why they appear and whether they are a sign to visit a doctor.
What Are Freckles?
Freckles are small brown or black spots on the skin that are sometimes caused by exposure to the sun. Most commonly, freckles are harmless, and they can appear on various parts of the body. Usually, they can be seen on the face, neck, arms, and chest.
In essence, freckles are skin cells with concentrated levels of melanin, which cause a darker color compared to the rest of the skin. While many believe that people with fair complexion are the only ones to have freckles, in reality, it is just more noticeable on lighter skin colors.
Furthermore, they do not have a higher number of cells that produce melanin (or melanocytes), but rather cells that overproduce melanosomes, causing the changing of the skin’s coloration.
It is worth noting that this causes freckles to be significantly different from moles or lentigines, which are other types of “marks” that people might notice on their skin.
What Causes Freckles
The next thing you might want to know is what causes freckles. The primary reason why freckles may appear on the skin is due to UV rays. This means that freckles can be a sign of sun damage. Now, this doesn’t mean that they are a symptom or a sign of any underlying disease but just show that a person was exposed to sunlight.
Moreover, it is possible for someone who never had freckles before to develop them in case of extended exposure to UV rays or sunlight. It is also rare to find an infant with freckles, and it is more likely that they will appear before puberty.
Another important factor is, of course, genetics. People who have freckles also have a lower concentration of photo-protective melanin, which makes their skin more vulnerable and exposed to UV radiation. Protect yourself from radiation, follow these tips.
Freckles are also related to uncommon alleles of the MC1R gene, which is hereditary. However, the presence of this allele is linked to red hair more than freckles, and it is still possible for someone to develop them even without the MC1R gene.
Types of Freckles
As you have probably expected, there are different types of freckles. The first type or the one you probably know already is ephelides. Solar lentigines are the second type, and they include sunspots, freckles, and aging spots. While it might sound similar, there are a couple of differences mostly related to development.
We have already mentioned that freckles are more common with lighter skin types and that genetics plays an important role in development. Sunspots, on the other hand, primarily result from sun exposure. But this isn’t the sole difference between the two. Sunspots usually appear at the age of forty and are the result of years of exposure to UV radiation. But freckles are common in children and can appear as early as at two or three years of age.
Moreover, freckles can fade with age, while it is highly unlikely for sunspots to fade. Another important difference is color. Freckles are usually red to light brown spots, with irregular borders, while sunspots are dark brown with well-defined borders.
Should You Be Concerned?
The most important question is if there are any reasons to worry. The main cause of concern is usually moles. While some moles are harmless, others may suggest that a person has an increased risk for some type of skin cancer. Usually, it is a sign of malignant melanoma. However, this doesn’t mean that every mole is a sign of cancer, and both moles and freckles pose no threat by themselves.
If you are worried about the size, shape, or color of your freckles (or moles), there are a couple of things you should check. Firstly, pay attention to the shape of the mole. If it is symmetrical, then there is a high chance that everything is well. Similarly, even color is always a good sign, and anything smaller than the size of a pencil eraser should be good news.
However, if there is a change in size or color, as well as if the mole is asymmetrical, be sure to inform your doctor about it as soon as possible.