Anna Gragert
April 08, 2016 11:01 am
Walt Disney Pictures

These days, it seems like freckles have become a fashion statement, which makes sense because they are pretty awesome. There are women who incorporate fake freckles – and even rainbow freckles! – into their beauty routines, transforming how we view these natural spots on our skin. Yet, such trends have also caused us to wonder: Why do freckles – real, all-natural freckles – exist in the first place?

According to YouTube series SciShow, freckles are produced by cells called melanocytes, which form small areas of skin showcasing an increase in melanin. Melanin, on the other hand, is the protein that produces the color of your skin, your eyes, and your hair. When more melanin develops on your skin, freckles happen!

Tessa Violet / giphy.com

These small, dark skin spots are fortunately a good sign because they double as a natural, body-made sunscreen (which in no way means you should stop wearing actual SPF). This means that freckles essentially act as your skin’s knight in shining armor, protecting your skin from the Sun’s villainous UV rays.

While freckles seem pretty straightforward on the surface (literally), a lot actually goes on behind-the-scenes. When these clusters of melanin are brought out into the light of day, they can get darker. On the flip side, when sunlight is avoided (such as during wintertime), your skin spots can fade. This means that no one is born with freckles! Instead, they come and go based on sun exposure.

Comedy Central / giphy.com

Here’s another skin feature that often gets mistaken for freckles: lentigines (liver spots). Lentigines are different from freckles because they symbolize areas where there are more melanocyte cells. Since these cells stay put on your skin, they are not affected by Mr. Sun.

From a genetic perspective, freckles are linked to a gene called MC1R (couldn’t they have come up with a cooler name?). This gene is pretty powerful because it devises your skin’s melanin blueprint. Interestingly enough, MC1R has two different types of skin pigment to choose from: eumelanin (darker brown) and pheomelanin (reddish-yellow).

If MC1R is active in your system, eumelanin is produced, giving you darker hair and skin that’s protected from UV rays. As for pheomelanin, it physically displays features such as fair skin, blonde or red hair, and #fierce freckles. Though, it is important to remember that we’re all unique beings, so not all red heads have freckles, especially since red hair is a recessive trait and freckles are dominant.

Now, we don’t know about you, but we will never look at freckles the same way again.

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