Freckles found on the face are often considered cute in our society and can make someone stand out.
Why do certain people have them, though, while others don’t? And what are freckles, anyway?
To find out the scoop, Fox News Digital spoke to experts about this particular science-based phenomenon.
Here’s what to know.
Known scientifically as ephelides, freckles are small, pigmented spots on the skin that are more noticeable in individuals with lighter skin, said Danilo C. Del Campo, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Chicago Skin Clinic in Illinois.
“They are mainly caused by a combination of genetic factors and sun exposure,” Del Campo told Fox News Digital.
When the skin is exposed to the sun, it produces more melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color, resulting in the appearance of freckles, he said.
“This is a natural response but also an indication that the skin is sensitive to sunlight,” Del Campo said.
If you or your children experience a sudden increase in freckles or notice any changes in the freckles’ appearance, it is advisable to consult a board-certified dermatologist, said Del Campo.
“You can find one by looking for the FAAD designation or visiting AAD.org,” he said.
The development of freckles often has a genetic component, Del Campo said.
“One key gene involved is the MC1R gene, which influences skin and hair color,” he said.
“Variants of this gene can lead to lighter skin and hair, increasing the likelihood of freckles. That is why individuals with red or blonde hair often have freckles.”
Genetics can be complex, however, and not everyone with these traits will develop freckles, he said.
Freckles can start appearing in children as young as two years old, said Del Campo, and may become more pronounced and numerous with age, particularly after sun exposure.
“This is because the skin responds to UV radiation from the sun by stimulating melanocytes to produce more melanin in certain areas, resulting in the formation of freckles,” he said.
“While this is a natural process, it serves as a reminder of the vulnerability of our skin to the sun.”
Regular skin checks by a dermatologist are recommended to ensure skin health, he recommended.
Hair color and skin tone, like freckles, are outcomes of a complex interplay of genetic factors, Chelsea Wagner, MS, CGC, senior genetic counselor at BillionToOne in Kansas City, Missouri, told Fox News Digital.
“Freckles tend to be more common in individuals with fair or light skin tones. However, it’s important to note that freckles can appear in people of all ethnic backgrounds and skin tones,” Wagner said.
“This diversity is due to the intricate genetic factors that determine pigmentation,” she said.
“This complexity contributes to the wonderful diversity we see in people’s appearances all over the world.”
There are numerous factors, both genetic and non-genetic, that influence a person’s risk of developing skin conditions and skin cancer, Wagner said.
“Because of this complexity, it’s crucial to have regular discussions with your health care provider about your personal risk factors and family history. Routine skin checkups with a health care professional are also essential for early detection and prevention.”
Our genes, especially variations in the MC1R gene, provide the foundation for freckle development, while environmental factors, primarily sun exposure, act as the catalyst that brings them to life, Wagner said.
“Freckles are a unique result of this genetic and environmental interplay, making each person’s freckled pattern truly one-of-a-kind.”
Freckles themselves are not a direct risk factor for skin conditions or cancer, said Del Campo.
“However, they indicate skin that may be more susceptible to damage from UV rays,” he said.
“Therefore, it is crucial for individuals with freckles to practice diligent sun protection measures, such as using broad-spectrum sunscreen, wearing hats and protective clothing, and avoiding peak sun hours.”
Regular skin examinations by a dermatologist are also essential, especially for those with fair skin and freckles, to monitor for any potential skin issues, he also emphasized.
“It is important to remember that while freckles are generally harmless, any changes in their size, shape or color should prompt a visit to a dermatologist,” Del Campo said.
“Early detection and prevention are key to maintaining skin health,” he also said.
“For individuals with freckles, it is not just a matter of aesthetics but also a priority for their overall health to adopt good sun protection habits. I highly recommend consulting a board-certified dermatologist for personalized advice and skin checks.”