Freckles

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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How can freckles be prevented?

Since we cannot change our own genetic component of freckling, our main prevention measures are aimed at sun avoidance and sun-protection, including

  1. use of sunscreens with SPF (sun protection factor) 50,
  2. use of wide-brimmed hats (6 inches),
  3. use of sun-protective clothing (shirts, long sleeves, long pants),
  4. avoidance of the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
  5. seeking shade and staying indoors.

Freckle prevention is more effective than freckle removal. Freckle-reduction treatments are more difficult and often not satisfactory. People with known hereditary tendencies of freckling should start sun protection early in childhood. Much of the sun and UV skin damage occurs often while children are under age 18.

Fair-skinned people who are more prone to freckling and sunburns are also generally more at risk for developing skin cancers. Freckles may be a warning sign of sensitive skin that is highly vulnerable to sunburn and to potential skin cancer.

What is the treatment for freckles?

Several safe methods are available to help lighten or reduce the appearance of freckles. Frequently, multiple or a combination of treatments may be required for best results. Not everyone's skin will improve with similar treatments, and freckles can often recur with repeated UV exposures.

  1. Bleaching or fading creams: Products containing hydroquinone and kojic acid can be purchased with and without a prescription. Higher concentrations of hydroquinone (over 2%) require a prescription. These products can help lighten freckles if they are applied consistently over a period of months. Bleaching or fading creams are most effective in combination with sun avoidance and sun protection.
  2. Retinoids: Sometimes used in conjunction with other bleaching creams, tretinoin (vitamin A acid, Retin-A), tazarotene (Tazorac), and adapalene (Differin) also may help lighten freckles when applied consistently over a period of several months.
  3. Cryosurgery: A light freeze with liquid nitrogen in the physician's office can be used to treat some types of freckles. Not all spots respond to this form of therapy.
  4. Laser treatment: Multiple types of lasers may help lighten and decrease the appearance of freckles safely and effectively. Like cryosurgery, this is a simple and safe procedure with a high success rate and a low risk of scarring or skin discoloration.
  5. Photofacials or Intense Pulsed Light treatments are another method to lighten and remove freckles. This is not a true laser technique but an intense light source.
  6. Chemical peels can also help lighten freckles and improve irregular pigmentation.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/11/2015

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