December 02, 2020

Skin blemishes are sometimes a source of discomfort, especially those in very prominent areas like the face. And it’s not different with freckles. This piece expounds more on remedies for freckles. But first, let’s look at what freckles are and why they appear.

What are Freckles?

They are clusters of flat marks (pigment cells) that appear over a large skin area.  They can appear red, tan, or brown. Freckles are common in kids from 2 to 3 years, but they become less visible as they age.

What Causes of Freckles

Freckles appear due to excess build-up of melanin (the pigment responsible for skin and hair color) under the skin.

Sun exposure and genetics are the two primary causes of freckles. Some groups of people and skin type are more prone to freckles than others. Those more susceptible tend to develop them if they are overexposed to the sun. UV (ultraviolet)  radiation stimulates freckles.

  • Sun exposure

When you expose your skin cells to the sun, the skin produces additional melanin to protect you from sun damage, and so freckles appear due to melanin overproduction.

Freckles can cover a vast part of the body and can reappear or turn darker during summer. In the winter months, they tend to fade.

Freckles form mostly in areas that get massive sun exposure, including arms, face, neck, chest, or back.

  • Genetics

Genetics also plays a significant role in developing freckles depending on the melanin type your body produces. The type of melanin depends on a gene known as MC1R.

The body can either produce melanin called eumelanin or pheomelanin. Pheomelanin does not protect your skin against UV rays, but Eumelanin does.

Light-colored skin people and those with blonde, red, or light brown hair tend to produce the pheomelanin and are more prone to freckles. On the other hand, people with dark skin, hair, or eyes produce eumelanin and are less likely to develop freckles.

Are Freckles Dangerous?

Freckles are harmless. However, those with sunlight-sensitive skin should avoid sun exposure or be more cautious when working outdoors.

Freckles vs. Sun Spots

Even though freckles resemble sunspots, also called dark spots, age spots, or liver spots, they are different. Both freckles and sunspots are flat and appear in clusters, but freckles cover a larger area.

Both are caused by sun exposure; however, age spots appear larger and mostly affect people aged 40 years or older adults.

Freckles diameter size is 1 to 2 mm or larger, while sunspots are 2 mm or larger. Freckles tend to become darker in summer, and they fade in winter, but sunspots stay the same throughout the seasons and may become darker if left exposed to sunlight.

While light-colored people are more prone to freckles, age spots can form on people with different complexions. Freckles are usually tan, red, or brown, and sunspots are black, tan, or brown.

Both sunspots and freckles have well-defined edges, and any changes should get medical attention as it could be a sign of melanoma.

Freckles vs. Moles

Moles differ from freckles.  Moles are skin cells that grow in clusters and appear even at birth (congenital moles), and others appear throughout teenagehood to age 30s. They appear flat or raised and are darker than freckles. Freckles, on the other hand, are flat and appear at 2 to 3 years.

Unlike freckles that appear in areas that receive more sun exposure, moles can appear anywhere on the body. Freckles are 1 to 2mm or larger in diameter, while moles are usually less than 6 mm in diameter.

Freckles can change or fade during winter and get darker in summer months, but moles stay the same and can disappear over time.

In terms of color, they differ as well. Freckles are usually tan, red, or brown, and moles are black or light to dark brown.

Freckles are flat, irregular, and can appear clustered over a large area, but moles are round or oval and can either appear in groups or solo. Both freckles and moles have well-defined edges, and if you notice the edges changing or evolving in any way, you should get it checked.

How to Prevent the Formation of Freckles

Can you prevent the appearance of freckles? Yes. If you protect your skin from too much sun exposure, you can avoid or reduce freckles' appearance, according to the American of Dermatology (AAD).

You can protect yourself from sun exposure by:

  • Wearing sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection with SPF of over 30.
  • Not going outside or staying under a shade when the sun is strongest, that is, between 10 am and 2 pm.
  • Wearing long-sleeved clothes
  • Wearing brimmed hat
  • Putting on sunglasses
  • Avoiding the use of tanning beds
  • Reapplying sunscreen after every 2 hours of working in the sun or outside or after sweating or swimming.

Home remedies and Professional treatments for Freckles

Freckles are harmless skin marks, and getting treatment is not a must. However, some people find remedies for freckles for aesthetic reasons.

How to Get Rid of Freckles Naturally

Home remedies can also help fade freckles. However, most of these home remedies lack scientific proof. They include:

  • Lemons: A lot of people can swear on lemon and lemon juice. They claim that it has helped lighten the skin. All you need is to apply a little lemon juice to some fabric or cotton wool and then use it to wipe the skin. Vitamin C that is present in the lemon juice helps lighten the spots. However, the vitamin C in lemon is of low concentration and thus not likely to create much significant difference.
  • Honey: Raw honey also helps clear freckles. Dab a little raw honey on your skin with fingers. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes, and then clean it off with some warm water. Repeat this every day over time until you begin to get results. Honey contains antioxidants properties that help lighten the freckles over time.
  • Buttermilk: Some people claim buttermilk works on freckles. Apply buttermilk to the affected area and let it remain there for about 10 minutes before you clean it off with lukewarm water. You can mix buttermilk with oatmeal. Buttermilk may work because it has lactic acid, which can lighten freckles. 
  • Sour cream:  Regularly applying sour cream to the affected area and rinsing it off after a few minutes can lighten freckles. Just like buttermilk, sour cream also has lactic acid.
  • Onion: Rubbing onions over the affected skin can also help. Wait a few minutes after application and rinse it off with warm water. Onion helps exfoliate the skin and thus causes dark spots to lighten.
  •  Yogurt: Applying yogurt to the skin can also work. That’s because it also has lactic acid. Apply and leave it there for a few minutes, and then rinse it off. 
  • Aloe Vera: Aloe vera also helps fade freckles. Apply the aloe vera gel from the leaf to the skin. Aloe vera contains aloin and salicylic acid that can help clear the freckles.

Use these products for a few days until you get the desired results.

Topical and Over-the-counter treatments

Products that contain phenol and trichloroacetic acid (TCA) can lighten freckles, according to a 2012 study. Several spot peels and topical creams come in handy as they contain these compounds.

Also, various compounds can help fade freckles, including Azelaic acid, vitamin C, retinoids, Alpha-hydroxy acids, and Cysteamine.

Medical Procedures to Get Rid of Freckles

1. Chemical peeling

Chemical peeling is the use of chemical solutions to peel off and exfoliate the damaged skin. It is a procedure that can help remove freckles. The chemical peel solution for freckles contains trichloroacetic acid and glycolic acid that penetrates the skin and moderately peels off the affected skin layer.

2. Laser Skin Resurfacing

Laser therapy is a procedure that uses intense and focused pulses of light to target the damaged parts of the skin—there different types of laser for skin lesions. 

The Nd: Yag laser treatment is an effective procedure for freckles, according to a 2015 study. Some of the side effects of laser therapy include redness, burning, and scarring. Silicone gel with Vitamin E and silicone sheets can help treat the scarring.

3. Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery or cryotherapy uses extremely cold liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the damaged skin cells. This procedure requires anesthesia and takes a little time for patients to recover. 

Some potential side effects of cryotherapy include bleeding, hypopigmentation, and blistering. This treatment rarely causes scarring.

Can freckles go away completely?

Yes. Hereditary freckles may disappear on their own as you age. But those caused by sun damage increase over time, and they don’t fade quickly and can be permanent. They are more prominent in the summer season due to increased sun exposure, but they tend to fade in the winter season.

When to see a doctor 

Though freckles are harmless, they can be a risk factor for skin cancer. If you notice any changes in color, size, or shape of your freckles, please see a doctor. They will examine them and determine if there is a reason to do a biopsy.

Parting Shot

Though freckles are benign and harmless, some people want to get rid of them for cosmetic purposes. These tips can help get rid of freckles. Also, try to avoid sun exposure, especially if you have fairer skin, or take extra care if prone to freckles. See a dermatologist if you notice anything unusual.

Related Resources