Freckles are extremely common skin spots that are completely harmless. They are extremely common and are found as brown spots on the face, arms, neck or chest. Freckles become more visible during the summer, especially on people with light skin and blond or red hair.

People with a light skin and eye color are a lot more likely to develop freckles, especially in their youth. Freckles can be caused by sun exposure, which also makes them darker and thus more visible.

Freckles are directly linked to a compound named melanin. This chemical is produced by special skin cells named melanocytes as a protection against the destructive action of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Melanin makes skin darker and able to either absorb or deflect UV rays. People with fair skin have a lower amount of melanin.

As the cells produce melanin, the skin gets darker in order to adapt to sunlight. However, some of the melanocytes in the skin of light-colored people actually produce more melanin, even if they have a lower initial amount compared to other people. As a result, freckles appear instead of the skin having a uniform tan.

Some people have permanent freckles, which are visible during the entire year. The freckles on others are only present during the summer and disappear completely in the winter. They are also more visible in childhood and might fade or even disappear at an older age. Every person should protect themselves from the sun with glasses or screens, but those with freckles are more vulnerable than the rest.

Types of freckles

Freckles are classified in two main types: the normal ones and freckles caused by sunburn. Simple freckles are small, similar in diameter to a nail head and are round in shape with a tan color. The ones caused by sunburn tend to be a lot darker and have irregular shapes, with jagged edges. They are usually larger in size as well. This type of freckles are found on the areas most exposed to the sun, like the shoulders or upper back.

The medical term for freckles, ephelis (plural ephelides) comes from a Greek word. It designated small spots on the skin that usually appear in the summer and are either tan, red or light brown, with a flat profile. There is a genetic trigger for freckles, since they are often found in the same family. They mostly affect people with light skin, in particular those who have green eyes or red hair. The risk of freckles can be reduced through the usual methods of protection from UV light, such as avoiding sun exposure, using protective clothes or applying sunscreen.

Freckles with a darker color and those caused by sunburns have a different medical term and are known as lentigines (singular: lentigo), an alternative scientific term is lentigo simplex. The term comes from a Latin word meaning lentil. These have a darker color compared to normal freckles and tend to persist through winter. This type of freckles is usually harmless but in rare cases it can be a sign of a very rare genetic condition.

Treatment options

Freckles can be lightened or completely eliminated using a number of safe and well-tested treatments. Doctors usually select a combination of these techniques, in order to achieve the best possible results. However, the skin of some people doesn't respond well to treatment and there is always the chance that more freckles will appear after sun exposure.

There are many types of the so-called bleaching creams on the market. Some of them, like the products based on hydroquinone and kojic acid, do not require a prescription. The prescription is needed for stronger creams, with a content of hydroquinone of 2% or more. Fading creams are effective in making freckles appear lighter but several months of constant application are necessary. Avoiding the sun and using sunscreen during this time makes the treatment more effective.

Retinoids are another type of bleaching products that can boost the effectiveness of the other type of creams. They also require a period of several months of continuous application. The most common retinoids are adapalene (Differin), tretinoin (vitamin A acid, Retin-A) and tazarotene (Tazorac).

Like other skin problems, some freckles can be removed through cryosurgery. Liquid nitrogen is used by a doctor to freeze and eliminate the spots but this is not always effective.

Treatments based on laser technology are another modern solution. There are several types of lasers available that can lighten up the skin and decrease the risk of freckles emerging. It can be a very safe and effective treatment, with a very low risk of scarring. An alternative method is the treatment based on Intense Pulsed Light, or photo facials. This is also a very intense light but not a true laser and it can remove or correct freckles on the skin.

Some chemical agents that force the skin to peel are also effective, by achieving a more uniform pigmentation that hides freckles. Special cosmetic treatments are also available and can be very effective but sometimes prohibitory expensive. However, some simple home remedies can also be successful, for a very low cost.

An old and tested home remedy for freckles is lemon juice. Some of the compounds in its composition are able to lighten the color of the skin, which not only removes freckles but can eliminate various other dark spots as well.

Honey is another natural product with the same effect, because of some enzymes that affect skin pigmentation. In addition, it maintains the hydration of the skin, due to its excellent moisturizing effects. To use the benefits of honey, you can prepare a mixture of honey and water. After a bit of heating in a microwave oven, place it on the skin affected by freckles and let it work for several minutes. Use generous amounts of warm water to remove the sweet solution afterwards. This treatment should be repeated daily, for several weeks.

Honey can also be combined with wheat germs in order to boosts its effects. The resulting paste is used as a face mask, which should be allowed about 10 minutes to penetrate the skin. Two stages of rinsing are required, the first with warm water and the second with cold one. This is one of the best home counters for freckles but is another long-term commitment and must be repeated several times per week for a couple of months.

The third home remedy that includes honey is a mixture with yogurt, another natural product known for its skin benefits. It should be allowed to work for about half an hour every day.

Papaya juice is also a potent natural cure for freckles. This is because of the rich content of an enzyme named papain, which balances skin pigmentation. It doesn't have to be prepared in any way, just apply the fresh juice directly on the zone with freckles and massage it a bit, then let it work for 10 minutes and rinse with plenty of cold water. It takes daily applications for a couple of weeks until the first results become visible.

Onions, especially the red varieties, are a great source of sulfur. This causes the exfoliation of the skin, which can reset the pigmentation and balance its color. The application is very easy, just rub the area two times per day with thick pieces of red onion. Repeat the procedure until the freckles are gone. If you want a stronger exfoliation, press red onions to extract their juice and place them on the freckles twice per day for one or two weeks. An even more potent solution is to add a bit of pure vinegar in the juice.