What is a Freckle, anyway?


Image credit: Suicide Girls


Some people have them, some people don’t; some people love their beauty spots, and others wish they would all just go away.  But what is a freckle?  Why do some people turn freckly under the sun, while others just tan or burn?

A freckle is just a concentrated deposit of melanin: unlike people who tan evenly, people who freckle get their sun in spots.  It’s particularly common among redheads, but blondes and brunettes often freckle too; darker-skinned individuals like Indians and African-Americans can get freckles too(though it’s much less common) - even President Obama has a few! 

Humans have had a love-hate relationship with their freckles for generations.  A quote from the Old Testament tells us that freckles were once seen as a sign of spiritual purity, and a traditional Irish saying goes: “A girl without freckles is like a night without stars” - very poetic!  On the other hand, Gaelic superstition is full of purported cures for freckles, such as washing your face with morning dew or the blood of a hare, and Victorian ads for freckle-reducing creams described the beauty spots as “unsightly blemishes”.

Vintage ad for freckle-removing cream.  Image credit: Katie Beltramo 

It’s only fairly recently that the beauty industry has started to look at freckles a bit more objectively.  Freckles themselves are completely harmless: the risk associated with them is just because fair-skinned people are more prone to sun damage anyway.  In the 1980s, tans began to be associated with beauty and youth, and, as another byproduct of sun, freckles got some of the good press by association.  A 1995 Lancombe ad is thought to be one of the first that showed a model with freckles in a high fashion context, and Lancombe followed this up in 1998 with the second-ever cosmetic product for creating fake freckles (the first was by Chanel, a few years earlier).  By the early-2000s, fake freckles were all the rage on the runway: as well as giving the models a more youthful look, freckles were thought to make the models look healthier during the infamous size-00 debate.

Amber Valletta for Harper's Bazaar, 1995.  Image credit: Peter Lindbergh

Nowadays freckles have as mixed a reputation as they ever have.  Some people love their freckles and wear them proudly; others do their best to reduce them or cover them up.  For the second group, the bad news is that there’s really no permanent “cure” for freckles: the only way to stop them is to be rigorous with your sun protection and try to prevent them before they occur.  But the good news is that certain skin brighteners can safely fade your freckles a little: look for products with tyrosinase inhibitors, that block the production of melanin and help even out the complexion.  And for the freckles you already have, just remember: more people think freckles are beautiful than ever before.  Here at BellaPelle, we love our beauty spots, so wear them with pride!