Freckles get their day in the sun

As the weather gets warmer, it’s time to head out to play, and if you have freckles, they are eager to join the party.

Many people do have freckles, and not just the fair-skinned, red-haired among us. People with freckles come in every color, age and ethnicity, whether it’s a young Melissa Gilbert running through high grass in “Little House on the Prairie,” Lucy Liu, Rashida Jones, America Ferrara or Sinbad.

Freckles are synonymous with a certain all-American sweetness, but in the past, pop culture didn’t allow them to break out of the confines of “cute,” at best. Many women hid their freckles under layers of heavy makeup, wishing they would go away.

But a new day has dawned: celebrities are flaunting their freckles and showing the sexy side of the natural look. Gwyneth Paltrow shows hers off on the May cover of British Vogue, accompanied by a coy smile full of secrets. Evangeline Lilly breaks hearts on “Lost” sporting a sweetly seductive spray of freckles, and Lindsay Lohan pushed the boundaries of celebrity freckle exposure when she posed in Marilyn Monroe-like near-nudity for Esquire.


Though heredity is certainly influential in freckles, they are produced from clusters of melanin in the skin and so are also triggered by sunlight. Thus, as we head into summer, whether you sport a delicate sprinkling of freckles across your nose or your entire body is adorned with them, more freckles will begin to surface. You can choose to hide them or let them shine through, and either way, there are more options for dealing with them now than there used to be.

But first, know that “freckles are a sign of sun damage, regardless of age or the color of your skin,” says Harvard-educated, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessica Wu, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC Medical School. The number, size and darkness of freckles indicate how much UV damage skin has sustained over time.

“Even someone with bronze or dark brown skin can develop freckles, so anyone with freckles, regardless of skin tone, should be more careful about sun protection, because it means you’ve had some degree of sun damage,” Wu says.

She recommends, first and foremost, always using sunscreen. And she has her favorites. “For oily skin, I like La Roche-Posay Anthelios SPF 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid for the face,” Wu says. “For dry skin, try Olay Complete Defense Daily UV Moisturizer SPF 30; for kids, Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Lotion SPF 60.”


Makeup artist Brett Freedman is behind the brand Vanity Mark cosmetics and has done freckle-faced Lucy Liu’s makeup often. “A lot of actresses do [laser treatments] to downplay their freckles — they are still of the day where you cover them. But the younger girls are leaving them. [Freckles] were almost extinct in Hollywood, but now they’re coming back.”

Freedman says that one of the biggest mistakes women with freckles make is using too much heavy, full-coverage foundation. “It can give them an odd cast and look ashy,” he says. “If I’m working with an actress, for example, Lucy Liu, I use a tinted moisturizer just a touch darker than her skin tone so it darkens the skin a touch and the freckles appear a little more lower-watt and blend more.”

For women with red hair and porcelain skin, beige might be a better option than a bronzy tinted moisturizer. Laura Mercier tinted moisturizers are popular, come in a variety of shades and the compositions include oil-free, illuminating and regular. They indeed do melt into the skin. Celebrity make-up artist Pati Dubroff favors Dior tinted moisturizer for darker skin tones and Chantecaille tinted moisturizer for fairer shades.

If you want to cover freckles entirely, Freedman recommends starting with full-coverage foundation all over the face and then spot-covering the larger freckles around the nose with a little concealer applied with a brush. “Just sort of dot it on there,” Freedman says. “Then finish with a pigmented powder, which I generally don’t recommend, but if you’re really trying to get that smooth, porcelain finish and satiny finish to the skin, a powder with pigment will give that extra little bit of coverage.”

He adds that when you’re going for full coverage, there is no need to go a shade darker because with the more opaque formulations you’re making the freckles go away. You can match your shade or even go lighter for a retro look. That being said, “A lot of times I think women [with freckles] could go darker,” Freedman says. “They’re looking at their skin, which looks much paler because it’s around this dark little freckle.”

Instead of matching foundation to your face and being thrown off by the freckles, he recommends matching it to your décolleté. But he warns that this full-coverage look should be saved for night or for a low-light situation. “It’s not for sitting across the table at lunch,” Freedman says. “The trick for day that I’ve used with a lot of actresses like Lucy Liu is to use just a little [product] but of light-reflective coverage.”

For those who’d rather kiss freckles goodbye, there are ways of fading them. Staying out of the sun and keeping your skin protected is remedy No. 1. “However, over time, [freckles] get darker and don’t go away,” Wu says. At that point, she usually recommends a combination of prescription-strength fading creams, noninvasive laser treatments such as intense pulsed light, or IPL, photo facials (usually three to five treatments costing $400 to $500 each) or chemical peels (one to three sessions for $300 to $700 each).

As with any skin procedure, she says it’s important to find a doctor with experience, since some skin tones do better with laser and others respond better to chemical peels. Wu insists that her own patients do a skin preparation, such as using a Retin A cream, at least three weeks before any treatment to make sure they get a good result.


As for freckle “treatments” you find online, “steer clear,” Wu says. “I’ve had patients burn and scar themselves with various products they bought on the Internet.”

But the good news is that freckles are having a moment. Right now, particularly for daytime, showing freckles is “totally modern,” Freedman says. The technology of the new foundations helps.

“The formulations now aren’t as chalky or heavy and the light-reflecting powders — like Derma Minerals — are really great,” Freedman says. This new class of makeup offers just enough of the right kind of coverage to let your freckles show through and work their magic with polish.