What Causes Freckles?

Freckles, or ephelides, are caused by an increase in the amount of a dark pigment in the skin called melanin. It helps to protect your skin by reflecting or absorbing the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Freckles are triggered by exposure to sunlight. The sun’s UV radiation causes the skin’s melanin-producing cells, melanocytes, to produce more of the pigment, which is why they may become darker and more apparent after sun exposure and lighten in the winter months. Interestingly, sun avoidance and sun protection, including the regular use of sunscreen, can help to prevent or suppress the appearance of freckles.

Most freckles are uniform in color and appear as small flat spots (1 mm to 2 mm in diameter), which may be reddish, yellow, tan, light brown, brown, or black. While they usually appear on the face, freckles can also be found on any sun-exposed area of the skin, such as the hands, neck, back, arms, and shoulders. They may appear on individuals as young as 1 or 2 years old. Freckles are most often found on people with fair skin/light complexions, and in some families, they are an inherited genetic trait.

True freckles pose no health risk at all. They are not cancerous, and generally do not become cancerous. In other words, freckles are natural and not harmful. Despite this, many individuals, both men and women, want to get rid of freckles.

What Are Some Treatment Options for Removing Freckles?

There are various freckle removal options, including:

  1. Bleaching creams: Hydroquinone, a depigmenting agent, is the most commonly found and active ingredient in these creams and can be purchased with or without a prescription. Higher concentrations of hydroquinone (> 2%) typically require a prescription. These products are most effective in freckles treatment if they are applied consistently over a period of 3 to 6 months.
  2. Retinol: Sometimes used in combination with bleaching creams, retinol (vitamin A) may also help lighten freckles when applied consistently over a period of several months. A few caveats, however, is that retinol makes your skin super sensitive to the sun, and it should be avoided if you are expecting/pregnant.
  3. Cryotherapy: A quick freeze with liquid nitrogen in the physician’s office can be used for freckle removal. Beware, not all freckles respond to this form of therapy, and it may lead to hypopigmentation, or white spots (sometimes temporary, sometimes permanent), in treatment areas.
  4. Chemical peels: Most chemical peels contain alpha or beta hydroxy acids, which can aid in freckle removal. Beta hydroxy acids are weaker but penetrate deeper into the skin, giving more durable results.
  5. Photofacials: Typically administered with Intense Pulsed Light (IPL™), photofacial treatments are another method to lighten and remove freckles. This is not a true laser technique and should not be confused with laser freckle removal.
  6. Laser treatments: There are multiple types of laser freckle removal, including Fraxel®, PiQo4®, and PicoWay®.
  7. Natural remedies: There a host of natural remedies that may help lighten freckles, none of which are scientifically proven, including:
  • Dairy products: Sour milk, buttermilk, yogurt, and sour cream contain lactic acid, which can lighten but not get rid of freckles
  • Lemon juice: Contains citric acid, a natural bleaching agent
  • Honey: Contains an enzyme that can lighten the appearance of freckles

How Does the PicoWay Laser Assist with Freckle Removal?

The PicoWay system is a revolutionary laser treatment for freckles. Instead of light energy, it uses sound waves to target and shatter pigment (in this case, the melanin composing freckles) into tiny particles that are then cleared by the body’s natural processes.

Because the PicoWay laser uses ultrashort pulses, it produces little to no heat, adding to patient comfort and dramatically decreasing the chance of burns. Furthermore, this freckle removal technique leaves the surrounding normal skin undamaged. The PicoWay laser can also be used for other pigmented lesions, such as age spots, sun spots, and even tattoo removal.

What Can Patients Expect During the Procedure? Are There Any Side Effects?

Laser freckle removal with the PicoWay system does not require topical or general anesthesia and is virtually painless. Most patients describe the sensation of tiny pinpricks with treatment. Treatments take approximately 30 minutes to complete, and you will need 1 or 2 treatments spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart. You may notice skin redness in the treatment areas immediately after a freckle removal session, but this will improve remarkably and is hardly noticeable after 72 hours. Some patients may also experience temporary lightening or darkening of the skin. You can apply makeup immediately after treatment. Since there is no downtime with the procedure, PicoWay laser freckle removal is an ideal treatment for people with busy, public lifestyles.

Want to get rid of freckles? Contact Precision M.D. today to schedule a free consultation to see if you are candidate for a freckle-free porcelain façade via PicoWay laser treatment for freckles.