What Exactly Are Freckles & How Do You Get Them Safely?
Gone are the days of hiding your freckles under a layer of foundation. In the last few years, the hype around freckles has reached fever pitch—with even non-freckled folk wondering how they can secure a dusting of dots over their features.
So, how do you get them? Surprisingly, it's not so difficult to freckle up safely.
First, what are freckles?
Freckles are technically a type of sunspot. When your skin experiences inflammation from UV radiation, it can produce extra pigment, or melanin. But that overproduction can look a bit different depending on the person: Sometimes, it leaves a dusting of freckles; other times, it's hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
That's because the tendency to freckle is genetic, says board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD. While all freckles come from sun exposure, they only appear "in people with the hereditary ability to form freckles," she says. According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, only participants with a genetic predisposition to freckling were able to produce freckles when exposing their skin to high amounts of UV. In other words: Both fair- and darker-skinned individuals can freckle—it depends on your genetics, not necessarily your skin tone.
How do you get them?
Another scientific note: Technically, "freckles" is an umbrella term for two specific types of spots: ephelides and solar lentigines. While both ephelides and lentigines are affected by sunlight, ephelides are largely genetically determined and tend to appear during early childhood, whereas lentigines are typically induced by photodamage of the skin. So if you've had a freckled face since the early days, it's not that you spent too much time in the sunshine—you were just genetically predisposed to those types of spots. And if you notice a cluster of new spots cropping up after a day under the sun, those are likely of the lentigine variety.
Even though the ability to freckle is genetic, they require sun exposure to appear (how much sun exposure, that is, depends on your genes). Those spots, especially those aforementioned lentigines, are signs that your skin has experienced some UV-induced inflammation. As board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., previously told us, "Those freckles may conjure up good memories of a fun vacation, but make no mistake of what they really are: evidence that your skin was unprotected in the sun and putting your skin and DNA in harm's way."
So can you get natural freckles without sun exposure?
Unfortunately, no—sun exposure is the only thing that can cause those spots to appear. And baking in the sun in the hopes of cute, sun-kissed spots is not a great idea. However, many clean beauty fans are now starting to embrace enhanced and fake freckles. Yep, freckles are becoming a makeup look in their own right, and people are experimenting with ways to amp up the pigmented dots sans UV exposure.
Curious how? Just take a peek into your makeup bag: A trusty eyeliner or brow pencil makes a great freckle tool; just draw small dots anywhere you'd like to appear freckled. "Freckle makeup" is also very much a thing, with liquid eyeliner-esque products used to paint on the spots. Just dot wherever you please, pressing with your fingers to help the pigment blend into your skin (the longer you wait before pressing, the darker the freckle will become).
While real freckles can only appear after sun exposure (and may depend on your genes), you can always use makeup to create a freckled look or enhance the spots you already have, no harmful UV rays necessary. The best part about the freckle momentum? Say you wake up to a pesky blemish on your chin: A dot of freckle makeup, and poof—it's a brand-new beauty mark.
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Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.