The often-heard phrase that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ can be applied to the subject of freckles. Indeed, while freckles are seen by some as a skin defect, others view them as a rather cute feature that enhances the overall look of one’s face.
So what are freckles, what is their cause, and how can they, if so desired, be prevented or removed?
The appearance of freckles on one’s skin is the result of an uneven distribution of the pigment known as melanin. An unusually high concentration of melanin in a particular area result in freckling.
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Also known as ephelides, freckles appear on portions of the skin that are exposed to sunlight (with existing freckles becoming more visible with increased exposure to the sun’s rays), as the epidermis or outer layer of skin produces more melanin to protect the skin’s lower layers from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
Generally speaking, those with fair skin (especially redheads) are more susceptible to freckles than those of darker pigmentation. The likelihood of developing freckles is largely dependent upon one’s genetic background.
The appearance of freckles should be taken as a warning that one may be predisposed to skin cancer. As such, those with freckles should be especially careful to exposure to sunlight and should be sure to apply a UVA and UVB sunscreen, containing avobenzone, zinc dioxide, or titanium dioxide, to exposed areas when venturing out into the sun for extended periods.
Other prudent steps to take to lessen the chances of freckling include wearing a hat with a wide brim, staying away from exposure to the sun during the late morning and early afternoon hours, and avoiding tanning beds.
If one already has freckles and wishes to reduce their visibility, there are a number of freckle fading creams on the market, usually containing hydroquinone, which may be helpful.
Another common approach to freckle reduction is the use of bleaching agents, which attempt to fade the areas of freckling so their color matches that of the adjoining, non-freckled skin. This approach is often unsuccessful, as it may result in discoloring of the adjoining areas.
In recent years, a number of new treatments have presented themselves. These include freezing them with a form of liquid nitrogen, where there is a risk of scarring and there may be a significant recovery period before the skin heals.
Other approaches include laser resurfacing (usually appropriate only for those whose skin has been significantly damaged) and chemical peels. The safer peels can be effective but require repeated applications, while the deeper peels while more effective require a substantial period of recovery.
Another decent method is the use of Retin-A, but again, a lengthy period of recovery can be expected. The other very common method in use is to mask the freckles with cosmetic products, including mineral makeup. Of course, this does not rid one of the freckles but merely covers them up.
For those seeking a more natural remedy, washing the face with sour milk allows the lactic acid in the milk to gradually peel the skin (and the accompanying freckles). The daily application of lemon or parsley juice with one’s fingers can also cause the appearance of the freckles to lighten and in some cases disappear altogether.
So there are a number of methods available for reducing and preventing freckling. But the most important advice one can give to those who do freckle is to avoid frequent exposure to the sun, both to reduce freckling (if that is their desire) but more importantly, to minimize the chances of developing skin cancer.