What Causes Freckles, Actually?

Whether just in the summer or all year, they’re caused by the same thing.

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When you think of freckles, you might conjure up the image of a pale, crimson-haired child with a face speckled with charming freckles, but anyone of pretty much any skin tone can have freckles. Some people carry their freckles year round, while others only get them in the sunny summer months.

But why do only some people get them?

Your skin color is determined by melanin—the pigment that gives hue to your skin, hair, and even your eyes. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes. The more melanin these cells make, the darker your skin (or hair). The less melanin, the paler your skin.

Some people, however, have less melanin overall, but have just a few scattered melanocytes that pump out more pigment. The result? Pale skin with freckles. (But again, you can have a darker skin tone and still have freckles.)

Since melanocytes react to UV rays (which is what causes burns or tans), freckles may get darker when exposed to the sun, and then fade away in the winter. That’s why some people *only* see their freckles in the summer, when they spend more time outdoors.

While freckles don’t necessarily indicate a health problem, they can sometimes suggest that you need to step up your sunscreen game. Like getting a tan, seeing your freckles get darker means you’re getting UV exposure. UV exposure damages the DNA in your skin cells, which can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Regardless of your skin tone and freckle status, it’s important to wear sunscreen every day—even if you’re not going to the beach. Find out the derm-approved way to apply sunscreen here, and here are tips to find the right sunscreen for your skin type.