Do you have freckles you wish would disappear? Those scattered little skin spots are a byproduct of living on Planet Earth. They're evidence of sun damage -- they collect over time due to prolonged and repeated sun exposure.
Here's how it happens: Deep in the skin, cells called melanocytes produce pigment, then travel up to the top layer of the skin (the epidermis) to feed that pigment to keratinocytes, the skin cells that act as a barrier to the sun. The pigment-producing melanocytes can only perform for so long before the sun damages the skin permanently. At this point, freckles are produced. Freckles are really collections of leftover melanin stains that sit on the very top layer of unprotected skin.
Freckles are harmless, and some people even think they're cute. But if you'd rather they didn't polka dot your nose and shoulders, here's some good news for you: Freckles can be prevented, minimized and even eliminated. We'll tell you how on the next five pages.
If you'd like to eliminate your freckles the high-tech way, lasers will do the trick. Freckles are melanin, and melanin absorbs the spectrum of laser light. The laser light negates the freckle, leaving just the keratinocyte cells beneath. Generally, a doctor (usually a dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon or general practitioner) will use a ruby- or green-colored, low-powered "Q-switched" laser light to blast away each freckle. This process is called fractional resurfacing, or it's know by its brand name, GentleLASE.
Since freckles are located at the very top level of the skin, the procedure is not invasive, and the laser won't damage any tissue on its way to the freckles. However, since it's a laser burning things off your skin, the process may cause irritation. After-effects include crusting and minor bruising. Your doctor may apply a topical cream to minimize discomfort.
There are a few old folk remedies for removing freckles at home with common foods, and they're surprisingly effective. Washing your face in sour milk may not make freckles go away completely, but it will at least lighten their tone. The key ingredient is lactic acid, and there's a higher concentration of lactic acid in sour milk than in milk that hasn't soured. Simply wash with sour milk and water.
A similar method is a sour cream mask. The thick, creamy, taco-topper is applied to the face, where it stays for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the lactic acid to absorb into the skin. It's then washed off with water. It's a good idea to apply moisturizer afterward to prevent dryness.
Another common freckle "cure" is to rub them with lemon juice. The active ingredient in lemon juice is citric acid, which is a natural bleaching agent. In fact, citrus extracts are often used in skin care products because they're a skin "equalizer," or pigment and spot reducer.
Also called a chemexfollation or derma-peel, a chemical peel is an outpatient or office procedure in which the doctor places a chemical solution on the face that causes the top layer of skin to redden, blister and shed. What's exposed is a new layer of fresh skin, which is not only smoother but is without blemish -- at least without as many blemishes as it had before. Freckles fall into that "blemish" category.
The chemicals used in a chemical peel include glycolic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid peel), salicylic acid (used in consumer-level astringents) and lactic acid (found in sour milk). The doctor will put the chemicals on one small patch of face at a time, every one to four weeks. Treated skin feels hot for a few minutes after treatment and then stings for hours afterward. The area then looks and acts like a bad sunburn. Over the course of three to seven days, it reddens, peels, scales and flakes off. But when all that's over, you have fresh, freckle-free skin.
Retinol, or Retinol A, sounds like a chemical, but it's really just a clinical name for vitamin A. It's an anti-inflammatory agent, making it suitable to treat freckles, which are tiny inflammations of skin cells.
Here's how it works: Skin care products, cosmetics and topical creams contain Retinol at a level hovering near 0.5 percent. That Retinol is absorbed into the skin, where the vitamin increases the rate of skin regeneration. In other words, it drives the body to shed the top layer of skin, which is where freckles live, revealing deeper levels of skin -- notably the ones that are freckle free.
Topical agents with Retinol have to be applied consistently and regularly for full freckle-diminishing power, and one side effect is that it may lighten the skin around the freckles in addition to the freckles themselves.
Freckles are caused by sun exposure, and people who are more susceptible to sunburn are more likely to accumulate freckles. For example, because their genetic makeup gives them pale skin, redheads often have freckles. If you're someone who tends to collect freckles, after you do away with them, you'll probably accumulate replacements unless you change something.
Vitamin C not only prevents germs from infecting you and making you sick, it also prevents the sun from adversely affecting your skin. It literally prevents pigment from clustering into freckles. Make sure to consume at least the daily-recommended U.S. Department of Agriculture amount of vitamin C, either in foods or as a supplement. Similarly, vitamin E is thought to gradually equalize pigmentation. In other words, it makes your skin more uniform in tone.
And, of course, wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 whenever you're going to be out in the sun for even a short amount of time.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bernstein, Dr. Eric F. "What Causes Freckles." The Patient's Guide: Freckles. 2009. http://www.freckles.org/causes.aspx
- Bernstein, Dr. Eric F. "Getting Rid of Freckles." The Patient's Guide: Freckles. 2009.http://www.freckles.org/removing.aspx
- Bernstein, Dr. Eric F. "Freckle Removal." The Patient's Guide: Freckles. 2009.http://www.freckles.org/freckleremoval.aspx
- Grayson, Charlotte E. "Chemical Peel Treatments." Medicine Net. Jan. 31, 2005.http://www.medicinenet.com/chemical_peel/article.htm
- Hebert, Emily. "Perfect Skin for Summer." Elle. April 27, 2010.http://www.elle.com/Beauty/Makeup-Skin-Care/Perfect-Skin-for-Summer
- Kavi Skin Solutions. "Retinol." June 2009.http://www.kaviskin.com/info/retinol.html
- Levine, Norman. "Skin Conditions: Moles, Freckles, and Skin Tags." WebMd. March 1, 2007.http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/moles-freckles-skin-tags
- Skin Care Guide. "6 Natural Ways to Lighten Freckles." Feb. 24, 2010.http://www.skincareguide.com/article/6-natural-ways-to-lighten-freckles.html
- Skin Care Guide. "7 Best Ways to Get Rid of Freckles." Feb. 24, 2010.http://www.skincareguide.com/article/7-best-ways-to-get-rid-of-freckles.html