"Why do I get more freckles as I age even though I'm being sun smart?"

Image: iStock.

Despite my insistence on using sunscreen all the time, I’ve found that as I age, I get more and more sun spots on my body. In high school, when I (regretfully) barely ever used my sun smarts, I had hardly a freckle.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my freckles and I embrace them. But I’m curious – why now that I am being sunsmart, am I paying the price? What is this sorcery?
I spoke with Doctor Ilana Galgut, a Cosmetic Physician at enRich Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, who told me what’s behind all of this. Apparently when we’re young our skin is of uniform colour, without brown or red marks which are signs of aging and sun damage, but as we get older they become more frequent for a few reasons.
“Sun damage from the past cannot be undone and manifests as we age as colour variation of the skin which includes sunspots and freckles,” Dr Galgut says.
“Skin pigment (melanin) is made by cells called melanocytes. They don’t produce much melanin during the winter months, but produce more when exposed to the sun. The melanin is then diffused into the surrounding skin cells.”
No matter how sun smart you are now, sun damage of the past can't be undone. (Image via iStock.)

Another factor is that as we get older, we can also get "age spots", these are different from freckles but the major cause of them is also sun exposure. Because of this, age spots often occur in areas exposed to the sun, predominantly on the face and hands (I wouldn't have had any of these guys when I was younger).

So how do we tell the difference between the two?.

"Freckles are small flat brown marks on the face and other sun exposed areas. They usually occur in fair skinned people and those with red hair, but they can sometimes occur in darker skin types as well. The medical term for these freckles is ephilides. The colour is due to pigment accumulating in the skin cells. As a person ages this type of freckle generally become less noticeable. Apart from sun protection, no particular treatment is required," Dr Galgut explains. (Post continues after gallery.)


On the other hand, age spots, which are called lentigines, are often darker in colour and are more defined and usually larger than freckles.

"Lentigines are due to localised proliferation of the cells that produce pigment. The most common type are solar lentigines, which are seen in middle age and are from sun damage. Lentigines tend to persist for long periods and don't disappear in the winter (though they may fade). They are common in those with fair skin but are also frequently seen in those who tan easily or have naturally dark skin," Dr Galgut explains.

If you do notice that you have recent spots, that have more than one colour and irregular borders, Dr Galgut recommends that you should have them checked by your doctor to ensure that they are not an early malignant melanoma.

If you're going out in the sun, how can you prevent getting more freckles and aging marks as you get older? Dr Galgut explains that while not all brown marks can be prevented, sunscreen alone isn't enough to stop the process of getting more.

"Staying out of the sun and using sun protective clothing is much more effective than sunscreens alone. Sunscreens must have high sun protection factor (SPF 50+), broad spectrum cover against both UVA and UVB rays and should be applied liberally and frequently," Dr Galgut explains.

And use it. Daily.

How sun safe are you?