Difference Between Sunspots vs Freckles

Difference Between Sunspots and Freckles

Sunspots vs. freckles: how do you tell the difference? Let’s take a look at these two types of skin pigmentation. 

What Are Freckles?

We’ve all seen freckles. Some people have a smattering across the bridge of their nose, while others have hundreds on their face and body.

Freckles are small, flat spots on your skin that have extra pigmentation compared to the skin around them. Generally less than 5 mm in diameter, these little genetic gifts can be red, tan, light brown, or darker. 

Their colour depends largely on your skin tone. A person with red hair and pale skin may have light-coloured freckles with a reddish hue, while someone with a darker complexion has dark brown or black freckles.

How Are Freckles Formed?

You can thank genetics for your freckles, and they run in families. Freckly parents tend to have children with freckles. But the gene responsible (called the MC1R gene) does not produce freckles without some help. 

Exposure to UV rays activates it, making your trademark spots emerge after spending time in the sun.

People in northern climes may notice that their freckles fade a bit in the winter when the sun is weaker and exposure reduced. The first sunny day of summer brings them back to top form.

Those without the gene can wish all they like, but their skin will not freckle, even in the sun. But sun exposure can lead to other types of less desirable spots. 

What Are Sunspots?

Many terms refer to sunspots: liver spots, age spots, and sun damage are just a few. Doctors sometimes call them senile lentigines or solar lentigines. They show up when UV radiation from the sun causes hyperpigmentation in the skin cells, creating a flat spot darker than your skin tone. 

Sunspots are common in the same places as freckles: the face, hands, arms, shoulders, and other areas that get regular sun exposure. They are usually larger than freckles and appear later in life.

Do Freckles and Sun Damage Spots Look Different?

One way to compare sunspots vs. freckles is by size. Sunspots are generally larger and are usually quite well-defined.

Sunspots can also appear on any skin type, regardless of genetics. Someone with freckles may notice a sunspot because it is larger than a freckle. Someone without the freckle gene will notice it because they have a few other unevenly pigmented areas on their skin.

Sunspots will not fade during the winter months like freckles. They may get darker as unprotected skin is exposed to more sun.

Should You Be Worried About Freckles and Sun Damage Spots?

Freckles are your body’s way of trying to protect you from UVA and UVB rays. They aren’t considered sun damage. Freckles simply tell you that your skin has seen the sun, and you have the gene for a little extra melanin production.

Keep in mind that your body produces freckles in areas it thinks are vulnerable to sun damage. If you’re lucky enough to have that genetic beacon, pay attention and use lots of high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Sunspots, like freckles, are not inherently dangerous and are not cancerous. But they are a sign of sun damage. They also tend to be more common in people with fair skin who are more at risk from the sun’s harmful rays.

Both freckles and sunspots should be monitored. See your doctor or dermatologist to rule out skin cancer if you notice changes or irregularities. 

How to Remove Sunspots

Skin treatments are available if you don’t like the appearance of your sunspots. 

Broadband Light treatment (BBL) uses Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) to stimulate skin cells and encourage them to regenerate. These new skin cells appear clearer and smoother. 

Microneedling uses tiny, sterile needles to prick the surface of the skin. This encourages the skin to produce collagen and replace surface skin cells causing sunspots.

HALO™ laser therapy encourages your body’s healing and collagen-producing systems to create new skin cells. This treatment is targeted and can treat individual sunspots.

A chemical peel uses a gel made with naturally occurring acids to help smooth and resurface your skin. This treatment is sometimes used in combination with microneedling to reduce the appearance of sunspots.

How Else is the Sun Impacting My Skin’s Surface?

Years of sun exposure take a toll on your skin. You may be genetically destined to have freckles, but the sun can cause or worsen other skin issues as you age. Here are a few skin problems Dr. Pavlou can help you address.

  • Wrinkles Wrinkles are a natural part of the aging process that can appear prematurely or be more numerous with sun exposure.
  • Moles Some moles appear on areas of the skin with no sun exposure. But skin exposed to the sun is more likely to develop moles. Sun exposure can also cause mutations in moles that lead to melanoma. 
  • Sagging Skin A normal part of aging, yes, but sagging skin can be accelerated by exposure to the sun. 
  • Melasma Melasma is a condition that is most common in pregnant women, but can occur in anyone. Melasma is brown or grayish spots on the face, arms, and other skin exposed to the sun. It is not harmful or painful.

While melasma that appears during pregnancy usually fades, it can be a chronic condition that darkens with sun exposure. 


Skin Technique