Table of Contents
Are Freckles Genetic?
Date of Content: September 26, 2023
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD
Freckles are small, brownish, or reddish spots that grace the skin, particularly in individuals with fair complexions. The combination of genetic susceptibility and solar exposure leads to these pigmented spots. Freckles have a distinct and persistent attraction that is sometimes connected to a youthful, sun-kissed appearance.
Melanin, a pigment, is mainly responsible for these characteristic spots which some people consider as skin imperfections. Skin tone, hair color, and eye color are all influenced by melanin. However, freckles appear when melanin production is increased locally as a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. While UV exposure continues to be the main cause of freckles, genetics do play a considerable part in who gets them.
While moles and other skin diseases can occasionally be precursors to skin cancer, freckles are mostly benign and safe to have. It is crucial, however, to keep an eye on any alterations in the size, form, or color of skin lesions and to seek medical advice if concerns develop.
Freckles are frequently viewed as a cute and lovable characteristic by people who embrace them, signifying a connection to the sun and a carefree, youthful spirit. However, a number of cosmetic procedures, including laser therapy or topical lotions, can help fade freckles for people who want to minimize their appearance.
What Causes Freckles?
Freckles have a large genetic component that greatly influences their development. Understanding the genetic causes of freckles can help explain why some people are more likely than others to develop these marks.
Understanding these genetic factors explains why some people are more prone to freckles than others. and highlights the significance of sun protection for people with a genetic predisposition to freckles
Gene Variations in MC1R
Variations in the MC1R gene (melanocortin-1 receptor) are one of the main genetic variables linked to freckles. The melanin pigment, which determines the color of the skin, hair, and eyes, is controlled by this gene. In reaction to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light, certain MC1R gene variations can boost melanin formation. Freckles develop as a result of this increased melanin synthesis. According to research, people with specific MC1R gene variations are more likely to be freckled. People with fair skin, especially those with European ancestry, are more likely to have these variations.
Because freckles frequently run in families, they may be inherited. The descendants are more likely to get freckles if their parents or grandparents do. The concept that hereditary factors play a significant role in the development of freckles is supported by the clustering of freckles within families.
Skin Type and Ancestry
The development of freckles is also influenced by genetic variables related to basic skin tone and ethnicity. Freckles are more common among fair-skinned people whose skin contains less pigment. Due to a genetic propensity, people of European heritage are more likely to get freckles. Darker skin tones, on the other hand, contain more melanin, which acts as a natural defense against the growth of freckles.
As a polygenic trait, freckles are actually influenced by a number of genes, each of which has a tiny impact on the development of freckles. While MC1R is a key participant, other genes are involved as well. The combination of these genes increases a person’s propensity for freckles. The complexity of freckles’ genetic foundation has been highlighted by the discovery of numerous genetic loci linked to them.
Some SNPs and genes that have been linked to the genetics of freckles include rs1805007 (MC1R), rs1805008 (MC1R), rs12203592 (IRF4), rs8049897 (DEF8), rs11648785 (MC1R), rs4911414 (ASIP), rs1540771 (IRF4/EXOC2), rs872071 (IRF4), rs9328192 (IRF4), rs1042602 (TYR), rs1805009 (MC1R), rs11547464 (MC1R), rs7204478 (MC1R), rs7195066 (MC1R), rs619865 (ASIP), rs291671 (CDK5RAP1), rs154659 (MC1R), rs4911442 (ASIP), rs6088316 (ASIP), rs17305657 (ASIP), rs4812405 (ASIP), rs1474976 (ASIP) rs2153271 (BNC2), rs10810635 (BNC2), rs251468 (PPARGC1B), rs10444039 (RAB11FIP2), rs12259842 (HSPA12A), rs10886142 (RAB11FIP2), rs4752116 (RAB11FIP2), and rs17833789 (AKAP1, MSI2).
Non-Genetic or Environmental Causes
Despite the fact that polymorphisms in the MC1R gene and polygenic inheritance are the main genetic causes of freckles, the interaction between genetics and environmental variables, such as sun exposure, is critical to the formation of freckles.
UV Radiation Exposure
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is conceivably the most important environmental element influencing the development of freckles. UV radiation in sunlight encourages the synthesis of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Skin reacts to UV exposure by creating more melanin in an effort to shield itself from the harmful effects of UV rays.
This increased melanin production can cause freckles to appear in people who are genetically predisposed to them. During the summer when it is sunny, freckles often appear or become more noticeable, and during the winter when UV exposure is lower, they may disappear entirely.
Sun Exposure Duration and Intensity
Freckle development depends heavily on sun exposure duration and intensity. Freckle production is more likely with prolonged or severe sun exposure, especially without proper sun protection. Freckles are more likely to appear on parts of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms.
Sunbeds and Synthetic UV Sources
Freckle production can also be influenced by artificial UV radiation sources like sunlamps and tanning beds. These gadgets release UV rays that might increase the skin’s melanin synthesis and cause freckles to emerge. In this aspect, prolonged or excessive use of tanning beds poses a concern.
Altitude and Climate
Freckle development may be influenced by environmental factors such as your location’s altitude and climate. Due to increased UV exposure, people who live in sunny climates or at higher altitudes may have a higher risk of developing freckles.
Medications and Hormonal Changes
The skin may become more vulnerable to UV radiation due to certain drugs and hormonal changes. For instance, when paired with sun exposure, certain birth control drugs and hormone replacement therapy can raise the incidence of freckles. These elements must be taken into account while thinking about sun protection strategies.
Understanding these environmental factors emphasizes the significance of sun protection measures, such as using sunscreen, wearing protective clothes, and finding shade, in order to avoid or reduce the development of freckles and maintain overall skin health.
Types of Freckles and Other Skin Spots
Freckles, those endearing pigmented spots on the skin, as well as sun spots, come in various types, each with its own characteristics and underlying causes. Understanding these different types of “freckles” can provide insights into their development and appearance.
Ephelides (Common Freckles)
The most prevalent and well-known type of freckles are ephelides. They often have a flat, round, or oval shape and are tiny in size. Common freckles can range in color from pale to dark brown to reddish or slightly pink.
They may fade or become less obvious over the winter when there is less sun exposure. They tend to be more noticeable during the brighter months. Most frequently, a combination of genetic predispositions and sun exposure results in common freckles. Ephelides are more likely to form in those with pale skin.
Solar Lentigines (Sun Spots or Age Spots)
Solar lentigines are darker and larger than typical freckles, sometimes known as sun spots or age spots. These patches are often circular or asymmetrical in shape and can range in color from light tan to dark brown.
Solar lentigines, in contrast to ephelides, typically last all year long and do not drastically deteriorate in the winter. The main cause of solar lentigines is long-term cumulative sun exposure, and older people are more likely to develop them. They are frequently connected to photoaging and other skin changes brought on by the sun and are not directly tied to heredity.
Lentigines Simplex (Flat Moles)
Lentigines simplex, also known as flat moles, are sometimes mistaken for freckles due to their resemblance in appearance. These marks can be circular or oval in shape and range in color from light brown to almost black.
In contrast to typical freckles, they typically have a more stable color and structure. Lentigines simplex are not typically linked to sun exposure and are brought on by an excess of melanin. They may be present from birth or start to manifest during childhood, and they are mostly influenced by hereditary factors. Normally, these patches don’t deteriorate or change much over time.
While these are the most common types of skin spots, it’s crucial to remember that a person’s skin may also have variants and mixtures of different types of spots. In addition, although they may resemble freckles, various skin disorders, and lesions can have different underlying origins and traits. If you are worried about any pigmented patches on your skin, it is best to see a dermatologist to ensure proper identification and therapy.
Can Freckles Go Away Completely?
Freckles can lighten or fade with time but typically do not go away completely. The extent to which freckles diminish or persist varies from person to person and depends on various factors.
Many people observe that during the winter when there is less sun exposure, their freckles become less prominent or lighter. When freckles are exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, they frequently darken or become more noticeable. Therefore, taking precautions to protect your skin from the sun, such as donning sunscreen and wearing clothes that provide coverage, might lessen how prominent your freckles are.
With time, some freckles, especially ephelides (common freckles), may fade from prominence. As people age, changes in their skin may occur that make freckles appear lighter or less prominent. Individual differences exist, therefore not all freckles will noticeably lighten with age.
The degree to which a person’s freckles disappear or remain can depend on their genetic makeup. It’s possible that some people are genetically predisposed to having freckles that don’t fade as easily, while other people may discover that their freckles gradually disappear over time.
Are Freckles the Same as Melasma?
Freckles and melasma are two distinct pigmentation issues of the skin, each with its own causes, characteristics, and treatment considerations. While they may share some similarities in appearance, they are not the same condition.
Genetic predispositions and sun exposure’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation are the main causes of freckles. They develop as a result of the skin’s pigment, melanin, overproducing as a reaction to UV exposure. Fair-skinned people are more prone to getting freckles.
Contrarily, hormonal changes, notably those that occur during pregnancy, the use of birth control pills, or hormonal treatments are predominantly responsible for melasma. Although it is not the main cause of melasma, UV exposure can make symptoms worse.
Small, flat, round, or oval dots that are often light to dark brown, but can also have a reddish or faintly pink hue, are the most common kind of freckles. In the summer, they are typically more conspicuous, and in the winter, they may disappear or become less obvious.
Melasma manifests as bigger, irregularly distributed patches of hyperpigmentation on the skin that are frequently brownish or gray in color. Melasma patches are often larger than freckles and lack a distinguishing round or oval shape.
Freckles are usually seen on skin that is frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, arms, and shoulders.
Melasma frequently affects the cheeks, forehead, upper lip, and chin on the face. Although it can also appear in other sun-exposed places, it is usually less noticeable than freckles.
Although freckles are usually not harmful, many people choose to control or lessen their appearance by strategies like sun protection (such as sunscreen and protective clothing), and cosmetic procedures like laser therapy or topical lightening agents.
Because melasma has a hormonal component, treating it can be more difficult than treating freckles. Topical creams, chemical peels, and laser treatments are frequent treatment choices, although results might vary and recurrence is frequent, especially if hormonal triggers continue.
When to Consult a Physician
In certain circumstances, speaking with a doctor about freckles or any skin spots is imperative to confirm that these pigmented spots are not a sign of a more serious skin problem, or to go over treatment options for controlling their appearance.
Change in Appearance
It’s important to see a doctor right away if you observe any noticeable changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of a skin spot. Such alterations may be a sign of skin disorders such as the skin malignancy melanoma. For excellent outcomes, skin cancer therapy and early detection are essential.
Family History of Skin Cancer
Even though freckles look harmless, people with a family history of skin cancer may be at a higher risk. You may need regular skin examinations with a doctor or dermatologist to ensure that any skin problems are addressed immediately.
Continual or Obtrusive Freckles
While freckles are often not harmful, a dermatologist can offer advice on treatment alternatives to lessen their appearance, in case you find their appearance annoying or if they are harming your self-esteem.
Hyperpigmentation or Melasma
Consulting a doctor or dermatologist can assist in confirming the diagnosis and deciding on the best course of action if you have any reason to believe that what you initially believed to be just freckles may actually be melasma or another type of hyperpigmentation.
While freckles are frequently safe and benign, there are some situations where it’s essential to see a doctor or dermatologist. In particular, if you observe changes in your freckles or have a family history of skin cancer, regular self-examinations, and expert skin checks can aid in the early detection of any possible abnormalities.
LifeDNA’s Skincare Report
Freckle formation can be traced back to hereditary factors using DNA analysis. DNA testing can identify your hereditary likelihood of having freckles based on your unique genetic makeup. To determine your potential inherited predisposition to particular skin features and problems, consider a skin DNA test.
Individualized advice on skincare routines, product recommendations, and lifestyle changes are offered through the LifeDNA Skincare Report. For instance, if you are genetically susceptible to getting freckles, you can receive individualized recommendations for lifestyle changes and possible reasonable treatments. The LifeDNA Skincare Report examines your propensity for freckles; order your copy today.
- Small, brownish, or reddish skin patches called freckles are common, especially among those with fair skin.
- The main cause of these recognizable skin flaws is the pigment melanin. Melanin has an impact on the color of the skin, hair, and eyes.
- When melanin production is elevated locally due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds, freckles develop.
- Freckles are mostly caused by UV exposure, but genetics still play a significant role in who develops them.
- While freckles are generally harmless and safe, there are some circumstances wherein you may need to contact a dermatologist or physician.
*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.
Our reports and suggestions do not diagnose or treat any health conditions or provide any medical advice. Consult with a healthcare professional before making any major lifestyle changes or if you have any other concerns about your results.