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Sparks of Genius

They’re suddenly playing muse to designers, photographers, and makeup artists. Plus, they’re freakin’ adorable. So step away from the powder—it’s time to let your freckle flag fly.

Skin is in, always has been. but the freckled variety got thrown a lot of shade—for being undesirable, unsophisticated, and, more seriously, a sign of poor sun-care habits. Finally, that’s all changing: As runway shows, celebrities, and artists showcase the uniqueness of our spots, genetic researchers re digging deeply into their diverse origins. The result? Women of all complexions are losing the thick foundation and wearing their freckles with pride, and those not born with the natural pigment are flexing serious makeup muscles to keep up. Join the club.

CONNECT THE DOTS

Like a head full of wispy curls, freckles are a genetic trait

SPOT ON

So cute we couldn’t not mention it: Freckled actress Jessica Chastain’s production company is called, appropriately, Freckle Films.

FULL SPECTRUM

Thought freckles were just for the fair and redheaded? Nah. No matter what color your skin or hair, you can have them.

 

WHAT ARE FRECKLES, REALLY?

If you have ephelides, as they’re known medically, you’ve got Mom and Dad to thank. Freckling is a recessive trait, so both parents have to be carriers and pass the tendency for it on for it to show up, says Amit Sharma, M.D., a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, who researches dermatologic genetics. The so-called gene for freckling is actually a benign mutation of the MC1R gene, which regulates pigment.

While it’s true that such a mutation in people of Celtic heritage causes the stereotypical dot-dot-dots in fair redheads, variations of the MC1R gene lead to freckles in Chinese, Japanese, French, Mediterranean, Israeli, and certain African ethnic groups as well, Sharma explains.

Use Protection

That said, if you have pale skin and freckles, you’re at a higher risk of developing cancer than someone of your same skin tone without them. So stay vigilant: get checked out twice yearly by a dermatologist, and never skimp on protection: Use broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on all exposed skin, all year round, says Francesca Fusco, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

Aren’t sure how to tell a freckle from a sunspot, a.k.a lentigo? “Healthy freckles, with no underlying damage, should intensify when you’re getting more rays, and fade—even disappear—when you’re in the sun less,” Fusco says. “Sunspots, on the other hand, are going to be darker than your freckles and stay dark no matter how much exposure you get.” Depending on where you live (or vacation), this ebb and flow of freckle hue will vary. Aside from color, other signs a spot is a lentigo include size (a pencil’s eraser instead of its lead point) and shape (it may have a more well-defined border than most freckles), Barba says.

If you do have a lentigo, don’t freak—many are benign and mean nothing for your health. You can treat the discoloration with OTC brightening ingredients (Fusco recommends kojic acid or licorice root; try Fresh Peony Spot-Correcting Brightening Essence, $67, fresh.com). Stubborn patches can be lasered off with Intense Pulsed Light treatments (approximately $250 to $1,500 per session), which convert light energy to heat to destroy pigment, Barba says. If your doctor suspects the spot is a lentigo maligna, she will do a biopsy and treat if needed.

 

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