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What Are Freckles?

Did you ever read the book Freckle Juice by Judy Blume? The story is about a boy who buys a recipe to grow freckles — with disastrous results!

Not everyone is as excited about having freckles. In fact, we hear from kids who want to know how to get rid of their freckles. But there's no magic potion that removes them.

No Teasing!

Kids tell us that they don't like being teased about their freckles, so if you know people who have freckles, please don't make fun of them!

Let's find out what freckles are and why some people have them.

Freckles are not harmful or the sign of a health problem. They're just pigment cells (cells that contain color) that are contained within the skin in small batches. Freckles are usually tan or light brown, flat, and very small (smaller than the head of a pin). Sometimes they overlap and run together so they may look larger.

Freckles and the Sun

Being outside in the sun may help cause freckles or make them darker. Who's most likely to have freckles? People, especially kids, who have fair complexions (that means their skin and eyes are light in color).

People with light complexions have less melanin (say: MEL-uh-nun) in their skin. Melanin is a chemical produced by certain skin cells (called melanocytes); it helps protect the skin from sun damage by reflecting and absorbing ultraviolet (UV) rays.

The more melanin you have in your skin, the tanner you look! People with fair skin have less melanin in their skin to begin with, but some of their melanocytes make more melanin when exposed to the sun. So instead of easily getting an even suntan, they sometimes get freckles.

Freckles May Fade

Some people have freckles that fade away almost completely in the winter and return in the summer. Other people's freckles don't change much with or without the sun and can be seen year-round. Freckles also tend to fade as people get older. Whether you're freckled or not, be sure to wear sunscreen and follow other sun-safety rules.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2012

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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