The smattering of tiny brown spots that look so adorable on the noses of children may be less attractive when this type of hyperpigmentation -- also known as freckles -- dots your shoulders, arms and décolletage. Although you may simply be genetically predisposed to get freckles, they're ultimately the end result of sun exposure, says dermatologist Dr. Eric F. Bernstein.
What Causes Freckles
You aren't born with freckles. Rather, they appear over time in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as the nose and shoulders. More specifically, freckles are caused when pigment-producing cells called melanocytes -- the pigment that gives your skin its natural color -- go into overdrive. This pigment prevents your skin from sun damage, explains Dr. Bernstein; however, when melanocytes are subjected to sun damage, abnormal deposits of melanin, or pigment, collect in the skin, producing what you know as freckles.
Who Gets Them
Freckles are fairly common, affecting both men and women equally, says the Cleveland Clinic, typically in summer when you spend a lot of time outdoors. People with fair skin or those with red or fair hair are more predisposed to freckles. Other causes of freckles may be due to hereditary factors. Certain diseases, such as xeroderma pigmentosum, which causes extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light, can cause freckling. However, the underlying cause of freckles remains the same: Sun exposure.
Freckles: Are They Dangerous?
Freckles in and of themselves are typically nonthreatening, says the Cleveland Clinic. There's no need to treat them. However, if you get a lot of freckles, you likely have fair skin, and this places you more at risk for skin cancer.
How to Prevent Freckles
Prevent all types of hyperpigmentation, including freckles, by exercising thorough sun protection. Avoid tanning, which makes hyperpigmentation more noticeable, says the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Apply a sunscreen whenever you go outdoors, even on overcast days. The American Academy of Dermatology advises selecting a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection and a sun protection factor of at least 30. Keep infants under 6 months of age out of the sun, advises the AAD. Start using sunscreen on your child at 6 months. Avoid exposing your infant or child to the sun for long periods of time.
Get Rid of Freckles
Creams that fade away freckles may be difficult to use, says Dr. Bernstein. These products have bleaching properties, making it extremely difficult to lighten such small areas of hyperpigmentation. Also, your surrounding skin will also be lightened as well, resulting in the same color variance between normal and freckled skin. According to Dr. Bernstein, a highly effective way of removing freckles is through laser treatment. Topical creams such as Retin-A may also be beneficial, although irritating to the skin. However, for a less expensive alternative, the Cleveland Clinic suggests simply hiding your freckles with makeup.