Who would have thought that freckles could actually be a fashion accessory? Right now, they are enjoying their place in the sun, with some women flaunting them, others proudly wearing them, and the occasional ones even faking them!
Freckles can be fun if you like the look. They are more common on fair skinned people with red or blonde hair, and require no treatment – only a cosmetic camouflage if you feel like concealing them. If, however, you wish to be freckle-free, it can be done.
Freckles are small spots, around 5mm in diameter, common in fair complexioned people. These tan or light brown spots usually develop on sun-exposed skin, after repeated exposure to sunlight. Commonly appearing on the cheeks, nose, forehead, arms, shoulders and upper back, they lighten when the sun exposure reduces.
What causes freckles to form?
Melanin, a pigment protein responsible for the colour of our skin, eyes and hair, is produced by melanocytes in our skin. This pigment has a specific job to do. It acts as a natural sunscreen, protecting the skin from the sun’s harmful ultra-violet rays.
Normally, the melanin is spread evenly under the skin – which you see as a uniform skin tone. Exposure to the sun results in a generally even tan.
Now fair skin contains less melanin, and sun exposure often causes the melanocytes to generate melanin in localised clumps, which present themselves as freckles. In other words, freckles on skin represent focal areas of increased melanin production that become darker on exposure to sun. They are different from lentigines which are areas of increased pigment producing cells and do not darken on exposure to sun.
Do freckles mean trouble of any sort?
Absolutely not. Freckles are benign, pigmented skin lesions, generally associated with younger people and are more common on fair skinned people with red or blonde hair. They are harmless and fade with age.
Hide them? Heal them? What does one do about freckles?
Medically speaking, they require no treatment, only a cosmetic camouflage if you feel like concealing them.
Prevention, as for any condition, is the best way forward. Sun protection, in the form of protective clothing and broad spectrum sunscreens, is a good way to keep freckles from appearing. However, you don’t need to live with them. There are several treatments to lighten them if they do develop. Do remember that freckles usually have a genetic basis and cannot be got rid of completely You can lighten them, however. Solutions range from topical applications, to technologies such as Q Switched laser/ Electrosurgery/Radiofrequency/ Cryosurgery which can destroy the lesions.
Fading away those freckles
Wish to lighten them at home? Look for topical applications containing hydroquinone or kojic acid. Retinoids can also be used in conjunction with these creams. Both these, applied regularly over a period of months, can lighten freckles.
If that doesn’t work, there are a variety of solutions and technologies which, in expert hands, can help fix those freckles. The dermatologist would make a recommendation after analysing your skin type, the extent of damage, and other skin issues that are unique to your individual case.
Your dermatologist could administer mild chemical peels using alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or trichloracetic acid (TCA), or deeper peels such as the Jessner peel, depending on the extent of discolouration.
You may also be recommended a skin resurfacing treatment using ablative lasers, which remove the outer layers of skin by delivering an intense wave length of light, such as the CO2 Laser or Erbium Laser.
Whatever the method used, there’s only one way to prevent recurrence. Protect yourself from the sun.
So, keep them or let go? Happily, the choice is entirely yours.
By Dr. Vandana, Dermatologist