Nobody Is Born With Freckles. The Science Behind These Characteristic Spots

Nobody is born with freckles. The science behind these characteristic spots

These weeks have been intense due to the heat (and there is still summer ahead ) and the numerous reports of solar storms. But with summer comes tanning, closely related to it, a curious phenomenon affecting a small percentage of the population: freckles. A well-known facial feature, but the science of which often goes unnoticed.

Summer spots. Freckles, which also receive the technical name of ephelides, are melanin pigmentations. This, as usual, appears when the skin is exposed to the sun, except that in the case of freckles, instead of spreading throughout the skin, the pigment remains concentrated in delimited areas, forming small spots.

Freckles, therefore, appear on the parts most exposed to the sun, especially on the face. They are also associated with the summer months for the same reason. They appear in the months when solar radiation is more intense and disappear when it relaxes.

Babies don’t have freckles. Freckles do not manifest until after several years of our lives. The main reason is that the little ones have not yet received sufficient solar radiation, so melanin accumulates in their skin. As they appear, freckles fade with age, although some choose to remove them medically.

But the appearance of freckles has a lot to do with genetics, so it could be said that babies do have the instructions to create them. There is a hereditary factor, and it mainly has to do with variants of the MC1R gene, the melanotropin receptor gene. This gene is also linked to skin pigmentation and hair color, although not only redheads can have freckles. It’s not even a feature unique to white people.

MC1R is not the only gene linked to the appearance of ephelides. A study in Spain identified more genetic variants, such as one linked to the IRF4 gene, the interferon regulating factor 4, another gene closely linked to the pigmentation of our skin, hair, and eyes. It has also been linked to the appearance of gray hair, that is, with the discoloration of the hair.

Different types of freckles. Although it is difficult to distinguish them from the unfamiliar, there are two types of freckles. On the one hand, the simple ones, round and small, and sunburn freckles, which are darker and larger, with jagged edges.

How do they affect our health? The Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology explains that “Freckles are benign lesions: they do not involve a disorder or a skin disease. In general, they should be considered harmless, and only in very rare cases do they evolve into skin cancer”.

The fact that these injuries do not usually lead to more serious problems does not mean that protection and vigilance against serious injuries and skin cancers should be relaxed. In Spain, melanoma affects almost one in 10,000 people, and skin cancers cause around a thousand deaths yearly, with a slight upward trend in recent years.

Lentigines Ephelides are not the only benign spots that can appear on our skin due to the sun. Lentils are, yes, different in many ways from freckles. We are not born with these spots either, but they appear permanently in adulthood.

Lentils are usually larger than freckles and appear in more varied places (although exposed to the sun), such as the legs. Its appearance is less linked to genetics and more to sun exposure.

Superficial question. Unlike other skin lesions, freckles are primarily a cosmetic issue. Today we can easily alter our digital image without Photoshop by using filters available in many apps. But the science behind these algorithms is no more interesting than this curious phenomenon in the human body.