Freckles. What are they?

Freckles are flat pigmented areas of the skin that develop as a result of exposure to the solar radiation, sun beds, and fluorescent lights (Pugliese, 2001). Freckles are most common in fair skinned people (see Skin Type) making the disposition of freckle occurrence largely genetic.

Freckles may vary greatly in color, but they are always darker than the surrounding skin due to the concentration of the pigment known as melanin. They arise from the same process as a suntan, although they appear as spots due to the uneven distribution of melanin. Freckles become darker with sun exposure, particularly from solar rays of the wavelengths 300-400 nm – predomintly the UVA range (Pugliese, 2001).

Freckles are themselves thought to be harmless, but they indicate a heightened susceptibility to sun damage and skin cancer. Freckles are a warning to people who have them that their skin is highly vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer. Comparable measurements have been made of the associations of skin cancers with benign (non malignant) sun-related skin lesions, such as actinic keratoses and freckling (Hill et al, 2004).

Precautionary measures can be taken to minimise, and even sometimes prevent, the occurance of freckles.

There are two types of freckles: Ephelides and Lentigines.

Ephilides are light pigmentation anomalies of the skin which appear strongest in the summer months and fade during the winter months (see UV Exposure). Regular use of sunscreen during the months of greatest exposure can suppress the appearance of ephilis-type freckles.

Lentigines are darker than ephilides (sometimes dark-brown or black), and do not fade during the winter (see UV Exposure). This kind of spot is referred to as lentigo simplex.
Occasionally lentigo-type are part of a rare genetic syndrome, and do have the potential to develop into Lentigo Maligna, a malignant freckle that, if left untreated, can further develop into Malignant Melanoma.

The strong link to genetic susceptibility has been proven through the study of freckle occurrence in twins. Total number of freckles in identical twin pairs are strikingly similar, while those between non-identical (fraternal) twins are much less so.

NOTE: If you have a pigmented spots of which you are not certain you should visit a physician or dermatologist for an professional evaluation. Prevention is better than cure.