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The Fickle Truth About Freckles

No One’s Born With Them

By Sean Zucker —

Freckles have enjoyed an extensive history in the public eye. From Annie to Doris Day, the facial feature has long been associated with charm and beauty. But the origin of their development has been less clear. In fact, a lot of people may be surprised to find that no one is born sporting these adorable little dots.

That’s right, not a single person is born with freckles. The Cleveland Clinic notes that freckles don’t typically appear until two-to-three years of age and there’s a reason for that. It’s possibly the same reason that Annie was always singing about the sun coming out–because sunlight is what afforded her the signature feature.

Freckles are the result of an overproduction of melanin, the pigment that gives hair, skin, and eyes their color. “Melanin, produced by skin cells called melanocytes, protects your skin from sun damage by absorbing and reflecting ultraviolet light (UV). If you have a light, or fair complexion, your melanocytes make more melanin when your skin is exposed to the sun. Instead of tanning, you’re more likely to develop freckles,” the clinic explained.

Because of this, the spots usually pop up on more sun-exposed areas, such as the face, neck, back, upper chest, hands, and arms. There are also two kinds of freckles: ephelides and solar lentigines. Ephelides are far more common and what most people imagine the beauty marks to look like. They’re flat and generally red or tan-to-brown in color, develop early in children, and often fade with age. Solar lentigines, on the other hand, are yellow to red or brown to dark patches of skin and typically appear after age 40. Both are created from extended sun exposure. For some, they may appear in the summer during warmer weather and dissipate during the colder, shadier seasons.

Of course, there are a couple of other factors at work beyond just the star at the center of the Solar System. Like most human characteristics, genetics play a role. Family history can influence the prevalence and likelihood of developing freckles, the Cleveland Clinic confirmed. Additionally, a rare disease called xeroderma pigmentosum can also cause freckles to sprout. This is due to the condition causing increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light, such as the sun.

While the clinic admits freckles are seldom a cause for concern, there are a few instances when it might be time for a professional eye, as one dermatologist explained to Insider. “Freckles should not change dramatically in size or shape or appearance, nor should they become symptomatic. If one has a brown spot that is changing, it is best to have this evaluated by a dermatologist to ensure that it is not an abnormal mole, skin cancer, or other types of growth,” said Dr. Nada Elbuluk, a dermatologist at Keck Medicine of USC.

The outlet also warned that while the appearance of freckles is rarely an issue if a noticeable uptick in them appears it could be a sign that insufficient precautions are being taken against sun damage. To alleviate this, Insider recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher ideally with a high concentration of zinc oxide when outside. This will protect against 97 percent of the sun’s rays.

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