They require some extra attention, especially during the sunnier months.

By Lauren Wellbank
June 10, 2020
Laughing young woman lying on a bench using cell phone
Credit: Getty / Oliver Rossi

If you have freckles, you have your DNA to thank: According to dermatologists, freckles are genetic. You aren't, however, born with them (babies don't have freckles!)—but you are born with the gene. And while you do need a bit of sun to make freckles appear, they aren't necessarily a sign of sun damage.

Composed of melanin, freckles are actually a (very ineffective) layer of natural protection against the sun's rays, which explains why those with fairer skin types have them; in fact, the MRCI gene that controls the presence of freckles is the same one that determines red hair (and red heads typically have the fairest, most sensitive skin types). While we're all for embracing freckles, we also want to make sure you're protecting your complexion to the best of your ability. To help you do just that, we tapped Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, and asked her for her best tips on caring for freckled skin.

Red Heads

Red heads are more likely to have and develop freckles since they typically also have fairer skin which is more prone to sunburn. Freckles or not, it's important to do everything you can to protect your skin from the sun. "A sunburn is the way your skin reacts to damage from UV rays," Dr. Jaliman explains. "This damage can cause wrinkles, sunspots, and skin cell changes which can later become skin cancer."

Freckle Care Guide

If you have freckle-prone skin, you've likely noticed that these dots become more pronounced and more numerous after you've spent time in the sun. Therefore, limiting your exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. will reduce both. And if you have to be outdoors during these periods, be sure to use sun protection. "This consists of sunscreen, wide brim hats, and clothing that has SPF built in," Dr. Jaliman explains, noting that a good sunscreen should be SPF 30 or higher, water resistant, and block both UVA and UVB rays. "I recommend mineral (or physical) sunscreens over chemical ones."

Products to Avoid

If you have freckles, you'll need to adjust your skincare routine, as well. According to Dr. Jaliman, retinol-based products can be tricky if you have this skin type. "Using retinol can make your skin more sun sensitive," she explains, adding that if you are going to use a retinol formula, you should do so only at night.

Freckles Versus Moles

Everyone should regularly check their skin for changing moles or other signs of skin cancer—but those with freckles may have a harder time determining which brown spots are problematic. As a rule, Dr. Jaliman says to remember that freckles are flat (not raised!), tan or light brown, and generally don't change in size or border, adding that "they are darker in the summer and lighter in the winter." Moles, on the other hand, are raised and can change over time.

Monitor any moles on your skin for changes using the ABCDE acronym: asymmetry, border is irregular, colors are different, diameter is growing, and evolution of the mole. Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these changes, as they can be signs of skin cancer.


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