Have you ever looked into a mirror and seen that you have brownish spots on your face, especially on your cheekbones, under your eyes, and on your nose? If you do, you probably have freckles. Don’t panic just yet — freckles are perfectly normal, even though some people don’t have them.

In the past, freckles were seen as something unsightly and unattractive, leading many people with freckles to feel self-conscious about the spots on their face. Nowadays, freckles are considered to be a desirable physical trait. Fashion models with freckles have inspired many young women to embrace their spots, and now there are even makeup tutorials for non-freckled people to create their own little spots.

Still, we can’t help but wonder — what exactly are freckles? Where and how do they appear? Is there something specific that causes them? Are they a warning sign about other underlying problems? If I don’t like my freckles, is it possible to get rid of them?

We’ll attempt to answer every question you might have about freckles, so here’s all you need to know about the spots on your face.


What Are Freckles?

As I’m sure everyone would know by now, freckles are the flat, circular brownish spots on your face, and they appear as small dots about the size of a small button. Usually, these spots do not appear individually and show up in clusters. They tend to pop up more on the face, though it’s not uncommon for them to also appear on your arms, back, chest, or legs.

Freckles do not appear on you at birth, but they can develop on children as young as 1 or 2 years old. They are typically the same colour when they appear, though they can appear as different colours on different people — reddish, light or dark brown, yellow, and even black — but in every case, the freckles will be a darker colour than your natural skin tone.


What Causes Freckles?

When it comes to freckles, there are actually two distinct types — ephelides, which are the more commonly seen type, and lentigines. Both of these may appear similar but have differences in what causes them and the way they develop.


Ephelides, literally meaning ‘freckle’ in Greek, is the proper medical term used to refer to freckles. These are the more common variety, and they appear as flat, reddish-brown spots about 1 to 2 millimetres in size. Ephelides appear when your skin is exposed to the sun more often, and they show up because the ultraviolet (UV) rays stimulate the growth of melanin — the pigment responsible for our skin colour. When there is an excess of melanin, darker spots form and freckles are developed. This is why people with lighter skin tones tend to develop ephelides more often. Ephelides are also a result of genetics, which means they are passed down as traits through your family. If either of your parents or grandparents have freckles, you probably will get them too.


On the other hand, lentigines are the medical term for spots that are larger and darker in appearance. Also known as sun spots or liver spots (though they are not related to your liver at all), these spots also appear because of the sun’s rays, but they appear when your skin is sun damaged or burned. Lentigines also appear due to ageing, and tend to develop only when you reach adulthood. If you have darker skin, go to the beach or suntan often, you’re more likely to develop some forms of lentigines.


Should I Be Worried If I Have Freckles?

For the most part, freckles are not always an indication that there is some other problem within. That being said, if you have a paler and lighter skin tone than most, and if you have freckles too, you’re probably at a higher risk of developing skin cancer than another person of the same skin tone without any freckles.

Ephelides are generally referred to as healthy freckles, as they can lighten up quite easily with some simple changes. The hue will lighten and darken according to the seasons, staying out of the sun, and using sunscreen on your face for a few weeks can lighten or even make them fade away completely.

Lentigines, on the other hand, are darker and will stay dark all the time, even if you stay out of the sun. While the majority of these sunspots are benign and do not necessarily indicate an underlying problem, it is still recommended that you visit a dermatologist at least once a year to get yourself checked out, especially if you’re constantly exposed to the sun’s ray. Skin cancers like melanoma tend to start from large, dark spots and can be hard to diagnose by yourself, so it is always wise to seek the opinion of a professional.