Are Freckles Sun Damage?

There’s no denying it - freckles are in! Those who weren’t gifted the freckle gene at birth have even started tattooing or drawing them on. Those who have natural freckles look forward to the sun kissed speckles the summer brings. Freckles are becoming a highly sought-after beauty trend, but they are still an example of pigmentation due to sun exposure and can be dangerous. 

Skin cancer is a very prevalent and confusing condition. After all, it may seem impossible to get every spot or mole checked by a dermatologist. We’re here to give you some insights into what kind of spots you should be worried about (from Dr. Lee herself), so you can embrace the other ones.

What are freckles?

We all need our fair share of Vitamin D, so our bones can absorb calcium and stay strong. Vitamin D deficiencies have even been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, and many other ailments. In moderation, Vitamin D lowers your risk of these diseases, but, like most sun-related benefits, it has a dark side. 

Freckles that pop up when you’re in the sun may seem routine, but they are actually a sign of too much sun exposure! Freckles, which are technically called ephelides, appear when sunlight triggers melanin-production to protect the deeper layers of the skin from UV rays. This is why freckles form on areas of the skin that are exposed to sunlight — like the face, arms, shoulders and hands.

Are they dangerous? 

While freckles can be dangerous, they are usually benign. Other marks like moles and sun spots that don’t fade over time are more likely to be cancerous because they contain a higher number of pigment-producing cells than freckles do. 

If you were splattered with freckles as a child, you may have noticed that many of them have gone away as you’ve aged. Bad news: you may have traded these freckles for a different form of sun damage, like moles or sunspots (otherwise known as lentigines). The freckles you still have are probably harmless, but they are still products of UV-induced skin damage and can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life.

What should I do to prevent skin cancer?

Like most skin conditions, freckles should be monitored closely to make sure they aren’t indications of any underlying diseases. Research has shown that there is a correlation between the amount of freckles you have and the likelihood of developing skin cancer. Two things to look out for: increased density of freckles and freckles that get progressively darker. Freckled friends, don’t freak out! Just check in with your dermatologist regularly to make sure your freckles are healthy and stable.

With any skin condition that’s related to sun exposure, SPF is the easiest and best way to protect yourself. We know you may be excited for those summertime freckles, but skin cancer is a very real and common risk. Daily application (and reapplication) of a broad-spectrum sunscreen is your best bet at reducing this risk. Dr. Lee recommends using a moisturizer with sunscreen in the morning, like SLMD’s Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15 which is packed with antioxidants like Vitamin C, E, and Green Tea Extract to brighten skin and nourishing ingredients like Allantoin to hydrate it.

We know you love your freckles; we do too! But, trust us, you’ll love your skin when it’s healthy and protected even more.


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