[Watch] How and why do freckles appear?

Another great question this week, this time sent in by seven year old Daniel, who lives in Singapore; Daniel would really like to be a scientist when he grows up, but I reckon he already is one as he loves asking questions and finding out lots of facts about science and nature. In fact, Daniel is a regular to this blog, he often is the first to work out the Mystery Creature of the month!

Daniel’s question is…

How and why do freckles appear?

Many of us have freckles, Daniel has them too, in fact he appears IN the video as the freckle model 🙂 If you would like to know a little more about freckles (I bet you do!) just watch this video below!

Freckles are pretty common, especially in people with fair complexions, but before we look at how and why they appear, let’s take a closer look at what they are?

What are freckles?

Freckles are small spots on the skin, they are usually tan or light brown in colour. Unlike moles or some birth marks, freckles are flat on our skin. They are completely natural and harmless.

We are used to seeing them on peoples’ faces but they can be found all over the body.

They often become more obvious or more abundant when we expose our skin to the sun and that gives us the first clue as to why they appear.


Natural Sun-screen

Freckles are the result of a natural colour (or pigment) called melanin produced by the body to protect the skin against the harmful rays of the Sun.

This process is called photoprotection and this is how it works…

When UV rays of light from the Sun hit our skin they  trigger certain cells in our body to make more melanin.

The cells that make the melanin are called melanocytes.

melanocytes and freckles


The melanin is sent to the outer layer of our skin where it absorbs these harmful UV rays, protecting the skin cells (and the cells’ DNA) from their damage.

Usually melanin is distributed evenly around the parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun, causing our skin to tan.

When melanin is distributed evenly we tan

Sometimes though the melanin clumps together in areas, forming little dark spots that we call freckles.

When melanin comes together in small areas of skin we get freckle spots

So basically, melanin is a little like our bodies’ natural sun screen… which kind of makes freckles like natural sun screen spots I guess.

Who gets freckles?

So do only fair skinned people get them? No, that’s not so. There are probably a lot more people with fair complexions with freckles, and freckles tend to be more noticeable on fair skinned people, but people with all types of skin tones can get them too.

Freckles can appear on all skin tones

Freckles can develop on all skin tones

Freckles tend to run in families, so if your parents have them there is a good chance you do too. The tendency to get freckles is genetics… and is connected to a gene called MC1R.

So remember, freckles are natural and harmless. They are just a sign that our body is taking care of us and keeping us safe.

A big thanks to Daniel for sending in this question; if you have a question you would like me to answer just leave it in the comments below or sent it to me by email (drhowsciencewows@gmail.com).



Science blogger and writer; Owner of Dr. How's Science Wows; Mother of three junior scientists who have taught me that to be a great scientist you need to look at life through the eyes of a child!

14 thoughts on “[Watch] How and why do freckles appear?

  • May 12, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    This is so interesting, we are all covered in freckles. Great to know how they develop!

    • May 12, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks so much, glad you liked it 🙂 Plenty of freckles in this house too.

  • April 24, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Wow your videos are fab, must send you some of the boys’ many many questions :-).

    • April 26, 2017 at 9:50 am

      Thanks so much Laura, and yes, I’d love that!

  • April 24, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    It’s funny how they come and go – I had loads and loads of freckles as a kid but have fewer now, I don’t really notice them anymore (must check actually…)
    So I guess they fade when we’re out of the sun or as our skin gets older?
    Fantastic video!

    • April 26, 2017 at 9:50 am

      Yes, as kids we were probably in the sun more (and probably used less sun screen too!), plus they are often not quite as obvious on our skin as we get older (we’ll say no more about that 😉 )

    • April 26, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Thanks Mira 🙂

    • April 24, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      🙂 I hope he likes it Lucy

  • April 24, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Yet again you answer a question I was asked this week, must show this to my 6 year old

    • April 24, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      Great, happy to oblige 😉

  • April 24, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Fascinating! My brother used to have millions of freckles as a child but I don’t think he does anymore. (or maybe I just don’t notice them anymore!) I wonder if our bodies get less efficient at protecting us as we get older?

    My mum always called them sun-kisses, which I love 🙂

    • April 24, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks Sadhbh, I love the term sun kisses too 🙂

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