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Freckles facts

  • Freckles are flat small tan or light-brown spots on sun-exposed skin.
  • Common freckles themselves are quite harmless and never develop into skin cancer.
  • Most freckles are produced by exposure to ultraviolet light.
  • Unusual-appearing freckles may become malignant skin cancer.
  • Uncertain colored or pigmented spots should be examined by your dermatologist.
  • 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 are 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 may 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 11/11/2015

Sun-Damaged Skin Pictures Slideshow

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Freckles - Value Question: Explain why you like your freckles.
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Freckles - Prevention Question: What do you do to prevent freckles?
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Are freckles harmful?

Freckles are harmless. They may sometimes be confused with more serious skin problems. Conversely, more serious problems such as skin cancer may at times be passed over as a mere freckle. Anyone who has one or more pigmented spots of which they are not certain should be seen by a dermatologist. Treatments are available to lighten or eliminate those freckles whose appearance bothers their owners.