The side effects of summer – freckles or sunspots

Real freckles, those that form in childhood on the face, arms and other sun-exposed areas but fade in depth of colour and diminish in quantity in adulthood, are known as ephelides, an accumulation of pigmentation within the part of our skin cells known as keratinocytes. Ephelides occur and are more prominent in summer but diminish considerably or even disappear altogether in winter or during the rest of the year as skin cells turn over and new keratinocytes are formed. I’m Irish so I am a fan of freckles and the saying “a girl without freckles is like a night sky without starts”… but I know not everyone feels the same including many freckle owners.

In later life the freckle may be replaced by lentigines or sunspots. Perhaps the technical difference is of little concern – you just want the tip on making them fade quicker – but for now, sun protection or sun avoidance will reduce the quantity of ephelides, and eating carrots and tomatoes can help control melanin production and boost your natural SPF (sun protection factor) if you fear the freckle that much.

Top tip – Cover up. A wide-brimmed hat that casts shade on the face prevents the sun from ‘cooking up’ the freckles.

A little bit of food as medicine goes a long way – Tomatoes and other foods rich in vitamin C can help inhibit the activity of tyrosinase in the skin and so reduce the formation of melanin and its accumulation. Carrots and other foods rich in provitamin-A will protect skin and may also have a role in naturally
lightening freckles and sunspots. Topically – Lemon juice is the best pigment-reducing ‘friendly acid’ to hand, although it works better for some than others. If you must treat your freckles, make sure to replenish the skin with some cellular-rejuvenating treatments.

Lentigines are flat brown spots that appear on the face and hands, generally in middle age (hence age spots) but sometimes earlier. They are a result of sun damage. They are often mistaken for freckles. Like freckles they are due to a localised proliferation of melanocytes, but unlike freckles they don’t disappear in the winter. There are many common names for sunspots, age spots or liver spots, but the correct term is solar lentigines (the singular is lentigo, but rarely are they experienced in the singular). Sun protection is the answer to avoiding these and to minimising them once they have occurred.

There are skin-lightening creams and treatments based on hydroquinone, which work by both decreasing the production of the melanin pigment and increasing the breakdown of melanosomes (the pigment’s minute granules), effectively by disrupting the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme needed to make melanin. But adding a little more vitamin C to your diet can do the same job. Or you can apply it topically in facials containing extra vitamins or those homemade with citrus fruits.

How about an Elder mask (forgive the pun)

A skin mask with elderberries, orange rind and olive oil can work wonders. Put ½ cup of vitamin C-rich elderberries, the rind of 1 orange and 1 tablespoon of oil into a blender. Blitz and then apply. You can stir in a little honey or almond flour to create a thicker consistency if you prefer. Take 20mins out and rinse off.

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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