There's a lot to love about the sun, from light and warmth to photosynthesis in plants. But there are always two sides to the coin. We can all probably agree that we would much rather do without freckles, right?
Freckles are mostly harmless, and some people even find theirs aesthetically pleasing. That said, some don't particularly feel this way. In fact, freckle removal is incrementally becoming an in-demand skincare treatment for people who are fed up with them and want consistently colored skin tone.
What are Freckles?
Freckles are tiny tan or light brown spots on the skin, usually more common in people with light or fair skin - though anyone can get freckles. They mostly appear after exposure to the sun as a response to UV light stimulating the skin. Freckles tend to form on the face, arms and hands, but they can practically appear anywhere else on the skin exposed to the sun.
How Do You Get Freckles?
The human skin contains cells known as melanocytes that produce the pigment melanin. Melanin's main role is to protect the skin from the sun's UV rays. However, sun exposure stimulates melanocytes to overproduce melanin. Consequently, the build-up of melanin on the skin's outer layer is what manifests as freckles.
Nevertheless, there's still a more nuanced story to freckles. Two people with the same skin tone can spend the same amount of time in the sun and still have a huge difference in the number of freckles they get. That only goes to show there's a genetic predisposition to getting freckles, where studies have a direct correlation between the MC1R gene and a higher likelihood of having freckles.
Are Freckles Good or Bad?
Objectively speaking, freckles are neutral, neither good nor bad. They don't particularly pose any health benefits, but neither do they pose any health risks. The perception towards freckles -whether positive or negative- is, therefore, ultimately subjective.
Can They Go Away on Their Own or with Age?
Some freckles are usually in it for the long haul, while others tend to be seasonal. There are essentially two types of spots that people refer to as freckles:
- Ephelides: These are the normal freckles that usually fade away with time, usually fading away on their own during winter. The duration it takes for the fading is quite broad, for some taking just a couple of weeks and for others the course of a few years.
- Solar lentigines: These are also referred to as sun spots or liver spots. They tend to not fade away over time, even with limited or reduced UV exposure, copious amounts of sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats. That mostly means more freckles as one ages.
Even though freckles are typically benign, a good number of people still want to get rid of them, mostly for cosmetic reasons. Here are a couple of freckle removal treatments you can consider if you want to remove or prevent freckles:
Sunscreen doesn't necessarily eliminate existing freckles, but it helps to prevent new ones from forming. Dermatologists usually recommend wearing sunscreen all year round, even in cloudy conditions. Consider the following:
- Getting sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply sunscreen on bare skin, preferably at least 15 minutes before you head outdoors.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours and right after excessive sweating or swimming.
2. Fading Cream
Fading cream, also known as bleaching cream, can be bought over the counter and by prescription. Most fading creams contain hydroquinone, an active ingredient thought to hold back melanin production, consequently lightening darkened areas of the skin.
Topical hydroquinone cram may present the following side effects:
- Skin discoloration
It's very important to note the FDA is still researching the full breadth of hydroquinone to understand better what effects it may cause its users.
3. Retinoid Cream
Topical retinoid cream is essentially a vitamin A compound. It's used to restore sun-damaged skin and lighten freckles. It's also thought retinoids can offer photoprotection by absorbing UV-B radiation, which can help inhibit new freckles from forming.
Retinoid creams can be acquired with or without a prescription. Their common side effects include:
- Skin irritation
- Sensitive skin
4. Chemical Peel
Chemical peels use a chemical solution to exfoliate and peel off patches of damaged skin. A mild skin peel contains trichloroacetic acid or glycolic acid, which penetrates the skin's middle layers to remove freckles. Once the damaged areas of the skin are removed, new skin is generated.
Chemical peels can temporarily cause:
Moderate skin peels usually take up to two weeks to heal. During this period, you're required to soak your skin daily and subsequently apply a topical ointment. You will also need to take a prescribed antiviral for the two weeks, as well as avoiding the sun until your skin has fully healed.
5. Laser Treatment
Generally, laser treatments employ pulses of focused, intense light targeted on damaged areas of the skin. There are different kinds of lasers. According to this study, the 1064 Q-Switched NdYAG laser has shown to be the most effective n freckle removal. The study's results showed that the laser lightened more than 50% of freckles in an impressive 62% of participants.
On the whole, laser treatment is typically safe, with very low risks of scarring. However, some side effects may appear, including:
- Changes in skin color
It normally takes approximately two weeks to recover fully from laser treatment. That said, you might require multiple sessions to achieve the desired results.
People with a history of oral herpes may need to take antiviral medication before receiving laser treatments. That's because the laser can stir a flare-up of herpes around the mouth.
Your healthcare provider might prescribe other medications or creams to use before the procedure. This may also include avoiding certain products or medications before the treatment. It's always crucial to let your doctor know about any products or medications you're using.
6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C serum can also help with freckle removal, although some freckles can be more persistent than others. However, when Vitamin C is applied in serum form, it helps lighten freckles. Among these benefits, the serum also suppresses melanin cells, thus rejuvenating your skin and leaving you with clearer skin.
Vitamin C can also assist with discoloration. Over time, it leads to brighter and healthier skin while protecting your skin from free radical damage.
This procedure uses extreme cold, specifically liquid nitrogen, to freeze and eliminate abnormal skin cells. Cryosurgery is normally safe, and it doesn't require any anesthesia. More so, the procedure rarely causes scarring, and it has a remarkably short recovery time.
However, you might experience some side effects, such as bleeding, blistering and hypopigmentation.
8. Natural Remedies
People swear by all kinds of natural remedies to get rid of freckles. We must point out NONE have been proven scientifically yet. Still, most of these are unlikely to pose any risks when used in moderation:
a). Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is an organic and effective component that helps lighten freckles and other skin pigmentations. Additionally, its natural lightening qualities work to reduce freckles and other dark skin patches.
- Take 2 to 3 teaspoons of lemon juice.
- Massage it gently over your freckles using your fingertips.
- Leave it for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Repeat the process twice every day for enhanced results.
b). Aloe Vera
Aloe vera contains an active component called Aloesin that effectively reduces skin pigmentation, hence the correlation with treating freckles.
- Get fresh aloe vera gel by plucking it directly from the plant or getting an organic aloe vera gel from the market.
- Apply it on the whole face, then leave it for 15 minutes.
- Rinse it off with cold water.
- Do this daily for better results.
Buttermilk is also thought to reduce freckles while also leaving your skin supple and hydrated.
- Make a thick paste out of buttermilk using oatmeal.
- Mix both ingredients thoroughly, then apply the mixture on your face, leaving it for 15 minutes.
- Rinse with lukewarm water.
- Apply it twice per week for improved results.
d). Almond Oil
Almond is generally rich in vitamin A and E, which help nourish the skin and reduce pigmentations.
- Take 2 t0 3 drops of almond oil and heat them.
- Using your fingers, massage the oil gently on your face and leave it for about an hour or until your skin absorbs the oil fully.
- Rinse with lukewarm water.
* You can also consider applying almond oil overnight.
e). Mint and Bananas
Mint is abounding in antioxidants that can help in reducing freckles. Furthermore, nutrients found in bananas help the skin hydrated.
- Use a mixer to make a mint puree, then add mashed bananas.
- Mix both ingredients thoroughly and apply it on the face, leaving for 8 to 12 minutes.
- Redo the process three times a week for better results.
Honey can also help lighten pigmentation.
- Mix honey with sugar or salt to make a scrub.
- Gently massage your face with the mixture.
- After a couple of minutes, rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.
g). Sour Cream
Sour cream container lactic acid, which works the same as buttermilk.
- Apply the cream directly to your skin.
- Wash the cream off after a couple of minutes.
Yogurt, just like sour cream, also contains lactic acid.
- Apply yogurt to your skin directly.
- Leave the yogurt on for a couple of minutes.
Onions can act as exfoliants, thus helping lighten freckles and spots.
- Rub an onion over your skin.
- Rinse your skin after a while in warm water.
Pro Health Tip: When it comes to natural remedies, it's important to stop as soon as you experience any irritation. The next logical step is to consult your doctor for further medical advice.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Excessive sun exposure poses a risk factor for both freckles and melanoma. Melanoma, a malignant skin cancer, is more common in people with freckles or fair skin than darker skin. Generally, freckles are noncancerous. But it's easy for them to be confused with skin cancer.
However, moles can imply an increased risk for melanoma. More so, the risk increases with the number of moles.
You can self-examine your freckles and moles for:
- A – Asymmetry: Draw a line through the middle of the spot. If the halves don’t match, then it’s asymmetrical.
- B – Border: Cancerous moles tend to have uneven, notched, or bumpy borders.
- C – Color: A mole with a variety of colors should be a warning sign.
- D – Diameter: If a mole is bigger than 1/4 inch (the width of a pencil tip), it may be cancerous.
- E – Evolving: If there's any change in size, shape, color, or elevation, report it to your doctor promptly.
If you spot any of the following anomalies, it's IMPERATIVE to make an appointment with your dermatologist or doctor as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Question (FAQ's) on Freckles
1. What's the difference between freckles, sunspots, and moles?
Freckles and sunspots can exhibit plenty of similarities, but they also have slight differences. Freckles fall under both ephelides and solar lentigines. However, sunspots fall exclusively under solar lentigines, which can be scary sometimes.
On the other hand, moles have glaring differences from freckles. Moles are still skin lesions, but they tend to be darker, and they are not always associated with sun exposure. Moles, like ephelides, are also more common among light-skinned people.
Moles are made of excess pigment-forming cells with a higher average supply of blood vessels. They normally appear at or soon after birth, unlike freckles that appear later in time.
Furthermore, moles appear in a wide variety of appearances. Their color can vary from pink to brown, as well as assuming different shapes. They also tend to keep pace with a person's growth.