6 freckle removal options available (including at-home treatments)

Let's talk all things fading freckles.

Written by
Kate Evans
Medically reviewed by
min read
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A beauty trend that somehow also falls under a skin trend — if that even is such a thing — is freckles. Freckles have become the thing. So much so, that there are countless articles online advising you how to draw on or spray on freckles.

This ranges from using eyeshadow or a brow pencil, a freckle pen or, in some instances — a root cover-up spray, intended for those moments between hair dye appointments.

It could be because studies have found that a "biological facial cue" — like freckles — can heighten beliefs of authenticity, realness and genuineness [1].

In saying that, the cliche of people wanting what they can't have is often true — especially in terms of our physical appearance. So it's no surprise that people with freckles often wish they were without...which might be why you're here, reading an article about freckle removal.

And honestly, cosmetic reasons are reasonable enough for removing freckles — so let's get into it.

What are freckles?

A type of biological phenotype — individual observable traits, determined by your genes — freckles are actually a term for both ephelides and lentigines [2][3][4].

When you think freckles, you probably picture ephelides — small, pigmented spots. They're generally 1-2mm in size (the size of a nail head, if you've ever bothered looking at one of those), red to light brown in colour, and mostly observed in people with fair skin or those with red hair [4].

However, freckles can occur in anyone, regardless of skin colour; those with darker skin types will have darker freckles [5].

An inherited trait, they generally appear in early childhood (around 2-3 years of age), and increase during adolescence, and — as anyone who has them will tell you — are induced due to direct sunlight [4].

That's why you'll often largely see freckles on people's faces, as well as other sun-exposed areas — shoulders, chest, back, arms and the like [5]. They can range from just a handful of freckles to hundreds [6].

The other type of freckles? Solar lentigines. If you've never heard this phrase before, or are wondering exactly what this type is — well, you've probably heard another term for them. Liver spots, age spots or sun spots.

Mainly observed in Caucasian and Asian people, they're benign pigment spots that generally begin showing up in your 50s — especially if you were one for excessive sun exposure.

Their size can be from millimetres to centimetres in diameter and usually appear as dark brown spots on the face, back of your hands (the non-palm side) and forearms.

What causes freckles?

Okay, so we know that freckles — ephelides, but we're calling them freckles from here on out — are largely determined by genetics. In fact, even the variance in freckle count is mostly genetic — one study found that 91% of freckle count is explained by additive genetic effects [6].

Meaning, the number of freckles you have was contributed to equally by both your parents.

But, what about the formation of them? This is largely determined before you've even experienced proper sun exposure — UV rays just bring them out to the surface layer of your skin.

Getting into the nitty gritty of it here: the freckles themselves are pigmentation, an overproduction of melanin — what gives everything from your hair to your skin to your eyes their colour. And melanin is produced by skin cells called melanocytes [5].

So when you go out into the sun, your melanocytes produce melanin, working to protect your skin from sun damage. They do this by absorbing, and reflecting, UV light. But when you have too much sun exposure, your melanocytes then overproduce melanin [7].

And instead of tanning, those of us genetically predisposed to it produce freckles instead.

Fun fact(s): there's a "significantly higher prevalence of freckles presence" in women than in men, and if you do have lighter skin, there's more chance you'll be "heavily" freckled [6].

As for those age spots? They're more "environmentally determined" — sun spots are (unsurprisingly, given the name) a sign of accumulated sun-damaged skin, over a longer period of time [4].

Can freckles go away with age?

Yep, freckles (the ephelides kind) can disappear with age [6]. And, in addition to that, you generally get fewer freckles the older you get; it's due to the fact your skin doesn't respond to sun exposure the same way [8].

But as you know, the other kind can come out as you get older if you're not careful about sun damage.

Can a freckle be removed?

If you're not willing to wait around for time to do its thing — you'd prefer consistently coloured skin, or a more even skin tone now — then yes, you can get rid of freckles, with several types of freckle removal treatment.

Laser freckle removal

These freckle removal treatments both lighten and clear freckles and consist of laser treatments (3 different kinds) as well as IPL treatments [9].

Significant improvement has been seen with the following laser treatments include:

  • Long pulsed dye
  • Q-switched Nd:Yag; and
  • KTP

Intense pulsed light treatment (IPL)

As for IPL treatment, this has been found to be an effective treatment specifically for Asian skin, with relatively few adverse effects and high satisfaction levels [9].

Topical treatments

There are also several ways to lighten freckles, which include chemical peels, acid peel products, retinoids and retinol.

Professional skin clinics can offer a chemical peel, while other offerings can be bought over the counter.

Peel products that contain alpha hydroxy acid (AHAs), trichloroacetic acid, glycolic acid or phenol can be applied topically. As for how it helps? It sloughs off the top layer of your skin, in turn stimulating the growth of new ones.

In this instance, retinoids and retinol work similarly, encouraging the cells of your skin to slough off — so that new ones are brought up to the surface. They also help stimulate collagen production [5].

Can I avoid getting freckles altogether?

Being as freckles are triggered by sun exposure, it's not difficult to figure out that the best way to avoid freckles, is to avoid the sun.

Now, we're not saying to become a recluse who never leaves your home or the shade, but we do recommend taking some (pretty common sense) ways to protect your skin.

These involve:

  • Wearing sunscreen daily. Apply SPF50+ sunscreen to all exposed skin, every day, regardless of the weather. Swimming or you're sweating? Reapply every 2 hours. (Actually, if you're swimming, reapply every time you're dry after a swim) [5]. Software's Daily Sun Defence SPF50+ is a broad-spectrum sunscreen formulated with UVA and UVB filters, which may reduce the risk of photoageing, sun spots and some skin cancers.
  • Continue with the next steps of slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide. Slip on a shirt, wear a wide-brimmed hat when outside, seek shade where you can and wear your sunnies. As a bonus: this helps with protecting against skin cancer [10].
  • Avoid being out in direct sunlight during the peak UV hours.

Should I be worried about my freckles?

It's true that if you have a lot of freckles or moles, you're at a higher risk of skin cancer. But generally, you don't have to worry about your freckles unless you notice that they are:

  • Growing
  • Changing shape
  • Changing colour
  • Bleeding
  • Ulcerating

Get into the habit of regularly checking your skin, and if you notice any changes, tell your doctor as soon as you can [11].

Different types of freckle treatments

So we've already dived into some types of freckle removal treatment, but now it's time to go deeper.

Laser treatment

If you're looking to remove freckles, one of the most effective ways is laser freckle removal. In addition to long-pulsed dye laser treatment, q-switched Nd:Yag laser treatment, and KTP laser treatment, there is also q-switch alexandrite laser.

However, with the latter, there is the risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation [12] — where flat, tan, brown or black spots on the skin develop [13].

If you do undergo laser freckle removal and find you develop post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, our personalised Software pigmentation skincare formula can help you treat this.

With laser freckle removal, the laser wavelengths are applied to the pigmented area and work by breaking up the pigmentation. As melanin absorbs different wavelengths (500-1100nm), choosing the right type of laser is dependent on a few factors [14].

Intense pulsed light (IPL)

IPL is a non-laser treatment for freckle removal, which uses high-intensity light sources [15]. Light spots are emitted — sometimes 3-4 at a time — and work by changing the temperature of the skin in different parts, decomposing the pigment diagram and pigment cells.

One study found it had a total effective rate of 94.12% on people with freckles [16].

Chemical peels

A chemical peel — either using 70% trichloroacetic acid (TCA), or 80% phenol — has been found to be "equally" effective in treating freckles, but only on fair-skinned people [17].

Chemical peels work by using a chemical solution — like the above — to remove damaged outer layers of the skin, improving and smoothing texture and skin tone [18].

One thing to remember about freckles? If you don't cover up when in the sun, they're likely to reappear [14].

Can you remove freckles at home?

Using the above methods? No. These types of treatments should be done by a dermatologist or other (licenced) health professionals.

But there are legitimate skincare prescriptions that can help fade your freckles — like our Software treatment, designed to treat skin pigmentation.

With medical-grade ingredients like niacinamide, azelaic acid and a prescription fading ingredient, our Australian health practitioners can prescribe a formula based on your skin goals to help lighten dark spots, fade pigmentation and even out skin tone.

Does vitamin C remove freckles?

Vitamin C, a "plentiful antioxidant" is widely used as a depigmentation agent — helping prevent the formation of melanin, and lightening discolouration, whilst having a brightening effect on the skin [19].

In fact, vitamin C is recommended as adjuvant therapy for people who undergo IPL treatment for their freckles [16]. Consider adding a vitamin C serum, like Software's Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum, to your skincare routine to brighten skin and fight dullness, dark spots and discolouration deep within the skin.

Image credit: Getty Images

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