Freckles are small, circular spots of darkened skin that tend to appear most frequently on the face, arms and shoulders of people with fair complexions. They may appear on children as young as a year old, but may continue to appear randomly, especially after exposure to sun. Freckles occur as a result of an increased pigment called melanin that is distributed unevenly through the skin. The occurrence of freckles tends to be hereditary. The proliferation of freckles can be limited to a certain extent by using sunscreen, sunblock, or other protection against prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Freckles are usually harmless and do not need to be treated or prevented. However, those who are prone to freckling also have an increased risk of skin cancer and should therefore have regular skins checks by a dermatologist. Individuals who freckle easily should also check their own skin periodically and report any of the following symptoms:
- Irregular or multicolored pigmentation
- Spread of pigmentation beyond the border
- Growth of new moles or raised spots
- Tenderness, itching, pain
- Scaling, flaking, oozing or bleeding
Sometimes, patients with excessive freckling may choose to lighten or reduce their freckles for cosmetic reasons. This can be done with topical bleaching agents, laser treatments, chemical peels or retinoid creams.