Freckles

Multiple small, brown-coloured spots on the skin that are usually harmless

  • Age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle as risk factors depend on the type

Freckles result from an overproduction of melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its colour. There are two common types: children and young adults get small brown spots on areas of skin that are often exposed to the sun; and, after chronic sun exposure and/or repeated sunburn, adults and the elderly develop larger tan or brown patches on areas of skin previously exposed to the sun.

The tendency to develop freckles is usually inherited. It is more common in people with fair skin, particularly those with red hair. The patches are harmless and tend to fade during the winter, but are a sign of sensitivity to sunlight and of increased susceptibility to skin cancer. You should use sunscreen daily to help protect your skin.

The type of patch that develops with age is called an age spot, lentigo, or liver spot. These spots most commonly affect people over the age of 40. They can appear on covered and exposed parts of the body and do not fade in winter.

A lentigo is usually harmless, but some may eventually develop into malignant melanomas, particularly if they are on the face. A variation in colour may be a warning sign. If raised, brown lumps appear on a lentigo, consult your doctor as soon as possible so that he or she can analyse the spot and detect any cancerous changes in the cells.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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