I don't know if you remember me, but you might if I showed you a picture. Last year, you were tasked with guessing my "skin age" for a story one of my colleagues was writing about preventative anti-aging.
My coworker sent you a high-res photo of me with my hair pinned up halfway. I thought I had this one in the bag. My whole life, everyone has always thought I look two or three years younger than I am. They see my round face and my freckles, and they think: how young; how cute. Of course, as a kid, I thought this was annoying. But as an adult, I relish in it. I was 22 when that photo was taken. I was looking forward to hearing all about how little I had to worry about my skin.
When the results came back, you told me my skin age was a full six years older than my real age—the highest of anyone on our team. At first, I was shocked. I thought it was a joke. You told me my "sun damage" was to blame. You told me I had a lot of it. You told me it'd cost an estimated $300 a year to treat. I spend very little time in the sun (we beauty editors tend to be indoor cats). But I knew what you were referring to.
Before you, I'd never thought of my freckles that way—as a flaw that needed to be fixed. I've had a dusting of tiny brown flecks across my cheeks, forehead, and nose ever since I was a little kid. And maybe I'm just freakishly lucky, but no one had ever said anything bad about my freckles before. Kids at school never made fun of them; I was never self-conscious. I loved my freckles; I thought they were the one thing that made my face special.
So at first I shrugged off your evaluation of my skin age. I figured you were simply in the business of finding flaws and that I shouldn't take your remarks personally. But I didn't forget them. Over the next few months, I became extra fastidious about sunscreen application, which of course is a good thing. But I also became paranoid that my freckles, my beloved leopard spots, weren't as beautiful as I thought they were.
Dear Spa Owner,
When we met at that skin health conference the other month, you were drinking a strawberry daiquiri. We'd just sat through a long day of presentations; a dermatologist you worked for was there to tell us all about his new innovations. Now we were relaxing at the event's happy hour. You asked me what publication I wrote for. I asked you how long you'd worked for the company. You complimented my shoes. Typical small talk.
In the middle of our conversation, you asked me how old I was and what skincare products I used. I told you I was 24 and had a regimen that I thought worked quite well. As I spoke, I watched you scan my face. "Well, whatever you do, you need to get rid of those freckles now," you told me. "You need to be put on a strong prescription Retin-A."
I smiled, "Oh, but I like my freckles. I've had them forever—they're my face, you know?"
"Enjoy them now," you said, "because in 10 years, you're going to look old."
I wanted to tell you that I'd heard this before. I wanted to tell you that you had the wrong idea about my freckles. I wanted to get NYC dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz on the phone so he could tell you what he told me: "Freckles that kids get, which get darker in summer and lighter in winter, are entirely different from age freckles that adults get from the sun, which gradually get darker over years," he says. "They can look similar—kids freckles are much smaller than age freckles—but are unrelated." According to my esthetician, Renée Rouleau, freckles can form on kids as young as age 2.
My freckles weren't age freckles, I wanted to tell you. And even if they were, I loved them. I didn't understand why you thought I shouldn't. But I didn't tell you any of this. Instead, I made up some excuse and left the party. I placed my glass of champagne on a black pub table and left it there, untouched.
Dear Beauty Editor,
Last year when I posted this photo on Instagram, I'd just spent the week on a camping trip in Oregon. I returned with my freckles in full force and wanted to show them off to my friends online. I've always loved how my freckles come out in the summer. I think it brings such character to my face.
You and I worked together at the time. You commented that now I could use up all the brightening creams we had at the office. The darker the freckles, the more there was to get rid of. That's what you implied, anyway.
I wondered why you, the dermatologist, and the spa owner thought it was okay to tell me my freckles needed to be eliminated. Why did you assume I wanted them gone? Think of it this way: If a woman with silver hair shared a photo of herself proudly flaunting her strands, would it be acceptable to tell her she needed to dye them? Of course not. What makes my freckles different? Aren't I the person who gets to decide if they should stay or go?
Here's the thing: I adore my freckles, but I also understand them. Thanks to Rouleau, I know that my freckles aren't a result of bad behavior—they're genetic. They're caused by melanin, a pigment produced by our skin cells. When the sun touches my face, melanin production increases in order to protect the skin underneath. If enough melanin builds up in one place, a freckle forms. So really, they're my little protectors.
But rest assured, I also know that over decades of sun exposure, freckles can get bigger and bleed together, which doesn't look so young and cute anymore. So I know how important it is to take measures to keep the freckles pristine. That means wearing SPF every day. "Rain or shine, inside or out," says Rouleau. Regular glycolic exfoliation and vitamin C serums also help keep the pigment cells in place, she says.
But treatments to get rid of my freckles? Not my thing. So thanks for your advice, everyone. But we won't be taking it. My freckles and I are here to stay.
Do you have freckles? How do you feel about them? Tell us in the comments below!