Classic American beauty standards teach us that freckles are a flaw, but I've always loved mine. The few times dermatologists have recommended peels and products to eliminate them or makeup artists have made an effort to camouflage them, I felt like they were trying to cover up the fact that I have elbows—my freckles are a part of me. They're a fact. I don't want to get rid of them; I just want to keep them in their best shape possible.
A little background on why some people are frecklier than others: "It simply means that you have more active melanin cells in the skin. This is from genetics," explains celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. Freckle-prone people like me aren't born with spots (you'll never see a freckly newborn baby). "But pigment cells rise to the surface with age, so they will come out starting as early as age 2," says Rouleau. Freckling like this is due to exposure to heat and sun, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing. "I view these as localized pigmented growths that are precipitated by the sun but not dangerous," assures Craig Kraffert, board-certified dermatologist and president of Amarte Skin Care. "So whether or not sun freckles are considered sun damage is a matter of perspective and interpretation."
Thankfully, not every cosmetic skincare expert will tell you to get rid of your freckles. "A light sprinkling over the nose and onto the cheeks is very attractive, in my opinion! I would never try to erase someone's freckles," says Whitney Bowe, leading NYC dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. However, to keep your freckles cute, sharp, and contained, maintenance is required. "When they start to become very crowded and contiguous (touching) or get significantly darker, it's a sign you probably overdid it in the sun," says Bowe. Not to mention, if you are freckle-prone, it means you're probably at a higher risk for sunburn and skin cancer, too. "So flaunt and enjoy your freckles, but let them serve as a warning that you need to be extra vigilant all summer long," Bowe advises.
To help you stay vigilant, we consulted Rouleau, Kraffert, Bowe, and one other top dermatologist to get their best advice on how to take care of (not nix) your freckles this summer. Keep scrolling to read their skincare tips.
1. Keep the skin cool.
The first key to keeping your freckles cute is simply to prevent the production of more—and it's not just sun that causes them. It's heat, too. "When the skin is exposed to heat from the sun, hot yoga, and saunas, this triggers melanin activity, resulting in darker freckles," Rouleau explains. "For so long, people thought direct sunlight was the stimulant, but we now know that heat is even a bigger culprit of discoloration. A red, overheated face will wake up pigment cells."
So do what you can to keep your face from overheating: Jump in the pool; apply a cool object to your face, like a water bottle, as soon as it feels too hot; splash your skin with ice water after coming in from the sun; or apply a cooling gel mask, which you can pop in the freezer for 20 minutes beforehand. Rouleau recommends her Bio Calm Repair Mask, which is made with plant extracts and glycerin to offer cooling hydration.
2. Load up on antioxidants.
Freckle faces: If you invest in any skincare ingredient in the summer, let it be vitamin C. "A well-formulated vitamin C serum can help suppress melanin cells to keep freckles in check," says Rouleau. Look for serums with the ingredients L-ascorbic acid and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, both effective forms of vitamin C which, when combined with SPF, double your sun protection.
Moreover, make sure to be religious about your antioxidant application. "Apply products with vitamin C in the daytime or twice a day in the summer months," advises board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo.
3. Pay extra attention to (gentle!) exfoliation.
"One of the keys to managing skin discoloration is to be exfoliating regularly," says Rouleau. That's because dead surface cells store much of the excess pigment found in freckles. Exfoliation can be done with acids, at-home peels, gentle facial scrubs, dermaplaning, and sonic cleansing brushes—though it's true that some of these methods, particularly the chemical exfoliators, make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
For this reason, you might consider a gentle scrub. According to Kraffert, powder exfoliators are your best bet. "After researching formulations with multiple different plant seed blends and preparation methods in our Korean laboratory, we discovered that for physical exfoliation of the skin, corn seed–based formulas supplemented by wheat and rice bran provide the gentlest, most effective, and most consistent clinical results," he says.
4. Make sunscreen your number one priority.
What also turns your freckled skin from charming to muddy and damaged-looking is when you start acquiring sunspots, or lentigos. “Freckles are adorable. Age spots are not," says Bowe. "How to tell the difference? Freckles get darker in the summer and lighter/fade in the winter. Lentigos maintain their tone/color all year round."
Obviously, being consistent about your SPF year-round is important for preventing lentigos, but it's especially important in the summer. That has less to do with upping the number SPF you use and more to do with reapplying throughout the day. "As for reapplication, when out in the sun or even outdoors on a cloudy day, you should reapply another generous layer every 90 minutes," says Rouleau.
And remember: Whether or not your freckles look well-maintained, it's extra important to make sure your skin is healthy. Loretta suggests keeping an eye on any suspicious freckles: "If you have multiple freckles on sun-exposed areas, especially the center of your face, just watch for any change in them, including an irregular border, itchy or a new sensation within a freckle, or a color change that makes one of the freckles look different than the others."
Other than that, enjoy your spots and H.A.G.S.