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Guide to Sun Freckles: Causes & Management

02 Jan 2022

The increased sun exposure during the warmer months can have a whole range of impacts on your skin, such as sunburn, tanning and dark spots. If you tend to see spots on exposed areas of your skin during summer, you might be wondering whether they’re sun freckles, sunspots or something else altogether.

Freckles in summer are a relatively common form of skin pigmentation, but they are not always well understood. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the causes and management of freckles. Keep reading to learn exactly what freckles are, how they differ from other forms of pigmentation and how to care for freckle prone skin. We’ll also answer common questions like ‘does the sun cause freckles?’ and provide sun protection product recommendations from our Anthelios range.

 

WHAT CAUSES FRECKLES?

We all know that freckles tend to show up in the summertime and fade during winter, but how do the seasons influence these spots? Freckles happen as a direct result of sun exposure, which is why they’re most common on the face, upper chest, upper back and arms. In people prone to freckles, sun exposure triggers an increase in melanin production for some skin cells.

However, there are other factors at play which mean that not everyone who gets sun ends up with freckles. Getting freckles from sun exposure is an inherited feature linked to the MC1R ‘freckle gene’ which is then activated by sun exposure. People who have the freckle gene can also have fair skin and light or red hair.

 

SUNSPOTS VS FRECKLES

It’s easy to confuse sunspots and freckles because they are both types of brown spots that appear in sun exposed areas. Let’s explore the difference between freckles and sunspots.  

Key characteristics of freckles:

Freckles are spots where skin cells produce extra melanin, the substance that gives skin pigment. They are most often light to medium brown and usually measure less than five millimetres across. Freckles are some of the least concerning of all skin markings.

Key characteristics of sunspots:

Sunspots, also known as age spots, are usually seen in older people and can start to develop during your late thirties or during your forties. Sunspots are much larger than freckles with a width of up to two centimetres and appear in a broader range of colours from tan to dark brown. Unlike freckles which appear shortly after sun exposure, sunspots appear after decades of cumulative sun exposure which causes pigment producing cells to multiply. This makes sunspots a sign of ageing skin.

 

ARE FRECKLES DANGEROUS?

There are no harmful effects linked to freckles themselves, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wary if you’re seeing dark freckles from the sun on your complexion. Freckles are actually a natural way for your body to block UV radiation from penetrating deeper into your skin. They are not harmful unless their form changes, which can then be cause for concern.

While freckles are not directly harmful to your skin, freckles and sun damage often show up in the same conditions. The fact that freckles after sunburn are common is evidence of this correlation. You can think of freckles similarly to how you would a tan, as a warning sign of too much sun exposure.

It’s crucial to understand that sun damage to the skin is cumulative over time and the effects can take years to show up. Exposing yourself to conditions that produce freckles is therefore an indicator that you’re getting a level of sun exposure that can present risks down the road if not mitigated in the present.

 

HOW TO MINIMISE FRECKLES

Taking a few simple steps to care for your skin and minimise sun exposure is an easy way to minimise freckles in summer and beyond. Here are our recommendations for skin prone to freckles from the sun.

KEEP AN EYE ON EXISTING FRECKLES

Even though freckles aren’t considered dangerous in themselves, it’s important to monitor all spots on your skin for a change. It’s possible for freckles to look similar to the early signs of skin cancer, so you should monitor your freckles for any concerning changes in colour, size, shape or texture and have regular skin checks with a medical professional.

WEAR SPF EVERY DAY

Wearing sunscreen is a highly efficacious way to minimise freckles and spots while protecting your skin from harmful long-term damage. Our sunscreen formulas are suitable for sensitive skin and catered to different skin types.

If you have dry skin, opt for our Anthelios Ultra Facial Sunscreen SPF50+ as your face sunscreen. For body sunscreen use our Anthelios Invisible Spray Sunscreen SPF50+ for a lightweight option or our Anthelios XL Wet Skin Sunscreen SPF50+ if you’re going to be around water. Read our guide How Does Sunscreen Work to Protect Skin? to learn more.

ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE.

Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection so wear protective clothing and seek shade. Avoid prolonged sun exposure.

WEAR A HAT

While sunscreen is highly efficacious at absorbing and reflecting UV radiation, avoiding UV exposure in the first place is also a highly effective way to minimise sun freckles and sun exposure. Opt for an opaque, broad-brimmed hat to shield your entire face from the sun.

STAY IN THE SHADE

Simply staying in the shade as much as possible will make a significant difference to your daily sun exposure and freckles. On sunny or high UV days it’s especially recommended to relocate plans to a well-shaded area.

 

If you found this guide useful, you might also like to read our detailed rundown of Different Types of Moles and How to Check Them.

 

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