Freckles; the little brown spots that appear on our skin. Although we’re typically familiar with what they are, many of us have questions about them: Why do some people have more freckles than others or what causes freckles?
Freckles occur when pigment cells (melanocytes) experience an overproduction of melanin. The melanin is activated by sun exposure and this action causes the outer skin cells to appear brown. Regular tanning involves a uniform, regulated increase in melanin. Freckling, on the other hand, involves genetic mutations that cause uncontrolled melanin production at particular spots. Unlike moles, freckles are flat because the pigment cells do not replicate they simply produce more pigment (melanin). Luckily, freckles are not permanent; their appearance fades naturally within one month to six months, if continued sun exposure is avoided.
Why Do Some Areas of Your Skin Get Freckles While Others Don’t?
Say, you didn’t get enough sleep one night or you were taking a medication that made you photosensitive; these reasons may have made your cells vulnerable to damage from sun exposure.
If the sun exposure was strong enough it would damage the DNA inside clusters of these cells. This DNA would send out messages (RNA) to continue melanin production and increase discoloration. This cycle would repeat itself until the cell dies, is removed by a chemical peel, or destroyed by a topical product.
There is a device called the Woods Lamp, which is a black light that emits UVA rays. If you look at the skin through the Wood’s Lamp you can see dark spots appear. If the spots look brighter by the Wood’s lamp then you have superficial hyperpigmentation in the epidermis. However, looks the same after using the Wood’s lamp, it’s probably dermal damage.
Can an Esthetician or Dermatologist Take Care of My Freckles?
Freckles are in the epidermis, while melasma, and other types of hyperpigmentation are in the dermis. The epidermis (our skin) is made up of 5 layers. One of the layers, called the Stratum Granulosum (SG), contains our DNA. Estheticians focus on the epidermis so they can perform superficial peels which remove most of the the outer layer and the SG which goes to a maximum level of .06 mm deep. In short, since freckles primarily exist in the epidermis and do not involve dermal damage, Estheticians can take care of them.
Doctors, on the other hand, can perform clinical peels that are considered medium and deep in depth. Medium peels go into the upper reticular dermis, whereas deep peels target the medium reticular dermis (6mm).
Diving Deeper into Freckles
Although there is a genetic (hereditary) factor in freckling, it is predominantly triggered by exposure to UVB radiation. This is why freckles are rarely seen infants; they typically appear on children before puberty. Freckles are most common among people with fair skin and blond or red hair. Because these skin types are less likely to tan, freckles offer additional protection from UV light.
When your skin experiences sun damage your DNA changes. Sometimes you can do things to reverse that damage. This often includes therapies, such as hydroquinone with serums with tretinoin chemical peels, dermabrasion, intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, Fraxel dual and laser resurfacing.
How deep the hyperpigmentation is will determine the type of facial or depth of peel you will need.
Light freckles that come out in the summer (superficial/epidermal damage)
My recommendation: Have traditional facials with enzymes, along with light peels containing salicylic, glycolic or lactic acid periodically throughout the year.
Freckles that stay all year round and have increased throughout the years (superficial/epidermal damage)
My recommendation: Get a Jessner’s peel (multi-layer) or a blend of salicylic and lactic acid peels every 5-6 weeks for up to a year. Please don’t have more than six treatments within a one-year period.