Freckles

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Freckles facts

  • Freckles are usually are flat small tan or light-brown spots on sun-exposed skin.
  • Freckles themselves are quite harmless and rarely develop into skin cancer.
  • Most freckles are produced by exposure to ultraviolet light.
  • Unusual freckles may become malignant skin cancer.
  • Uncertain colored or pigmented spots should be examined by your physician or dermatologist.
  • Effective treatments are available to help lighten or eliminate bothersome freckles.

What are freckles?

Freckles are flat, tanned circular spots that typically are the size of the head of a common nail. The spots are multiple and may develop on sun-exposed skin after repeated exposure to sunlight. These are particularly common in people of fair complexion on upper-body skin areas like the cheeks, nose, arms, and upper shoulders. They may appear on people as young as 1 or 2 years of age.

Most freckles on a person's skin are usually uniform in color. On different people, freckles may vary somewhat in color -- they may be reddish, yellow, tan, light brown, brown, or black -- but they are basically slightly darker than the surrounding skin. They tend to become darker and more apparent after sun exposure and lighten in the winter months. Freckles are due to an increase in the amount of dark pigment called melanin and are not due to an increase in the total number of pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. The word freckle comes from the Middle English freken, which, in turn, came from the Old Norse freknur, meaning "freckled." (Some speakers of Old English and Old Norse must have had a tendency to developing freckles.)

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/19/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Freckles - Value Question: Explain why you like your freckles.
Freckles - Heredity Question: Did you inherit your freckles? Are they a characteristic of your heritage or ethnicity? Please share.
Freckles - Prevention Question: Do you try to minimize freckles? Describe how you try to prevent them.
Freckles - Treatment Question: What treatments have you used for your freckles? What would you recommend?

Making Sense of Sunscreen Products

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD

Most people are understandably confused when it comes to choosing a sunscreen because of the baffling array of available choices. Common questions about sunscreens include

  • How high should the SPF be?
  • Should it block UVA or UVB?
  • Does it matter whether it is a gel, cream, or spray?
  • Should it be water-resistant or waterproof?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF numbers on a product can range from as low as 2 to as high as 60. These numbers refer to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's burning rays. The SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce sunburnon protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin. The higher the SPF, the greater the sun protection.