Are Freckles Genetically Inherited?
Updated on March 18, 2024
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Are Freckles Genetically Inherited?
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Key Takeaways

Yes, freckles can be genetically inherited.

Freckles are small, darkened, visible spots on sun-exposed skin areas. They often appear in childhood and are common in people with fair complexion.

But what causes these pigmented specks on your skin? Are they entirely inherited?

In this article, we’ll discuss the factors that affect freckle development. We’ll help you better grasp why some people are more prone to freckles than others.

Are Freckles Genetically Inherited? 1

What Are Freckles?

Freckles or ephelides are small, flat, extra-pigmented spots visible on the surface of your skin. They are usually concentrated on areas of your body that are mostly exposed to the sun.

They are harmless and especially common during summer. Anyone can have freckles, but they’re more noticeable in people with lighter complexions.

Why Do People Have Freckles?

People have freckles as a result of both genetic factors and sun exposure. While sun exposure makes freckles more visible, they are also inherited.

Genetics plays a role in the development of freckles. Freckles often first appear during childhood, especially in children with lighter skin or red hair.

They appear when your skin overproduces melanin. Melanin is a substance that gives pigmentation or color to your hair, skin (complexion), and eyes.

Melanin production typically increases when you leave your skin unprotected against UV rays. It’s why freckles are more visible in the arms, face, and other areas not covered with clothing.

However, health experts don’t consider freckles to result from skin damage. Freckles and melanin overproduction have a biological role in the body.

Studies show that melanin absorbs and reflects ultraviolet  (UV) light to shield your skin from sun damage.1

Where Do Freckles Come From Genetically?

Research has mainly linked freckles with a gene variant called melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R). MC1R provides instructions for producing a protein called the melanocortin 1 receptor.2

When exposed to UV light, the body activates the MC1R. MC1R increases the intercellular level of messenger molecules involved in melanogenesis. Melanogenesis is the process of the production of melanin pigments.3

Then, MC1R will regulate normal skin pigmentation and UV responses.

The MC1R gene is dominant. It means you can inherit freckles even if only one of your parents carries the gene variant.

Studies have also identified other genes involved with freckles:4

  • IRF4 – A gene involved in regulating the production of Tyrosinase (TYR). TYR is a crucial enzyme for melanin production.5
  • BNC2 – A gene that signals the melanocytes to produce melanin.6

Are Freckles Inherited?

Yes, freckles can be inherited.

They follow a dominant inheritance pattern, meaning you only need to inherit one copy or allele of the freckle gene from either of your parents to have this trait.

Your parents pass down this trait to you, which is expressed through genes or the basic unit of heredity.

Genes have different versions called alleles. Each person carries two alleles or versions of a gene.

If a gene has two identical alleles, it follows a homozygous pattern. On the other hand, if a gene has different alleles, it has a heterozygous pattern.

Homozygous pattern means having the same version of alleles, while heterozygous pattern means having different versions of alleles.

Which Parent Passes Freckles Down?

Since genes linked to freckles like MC1R are dominant, the trait can be easily passed from parents to children. You can inherit the freckle trait from either of your parents.

Freckles are a dominant trait over the lack of freckles. It means you only need to have one copy of the freckle gene to have freckles.

What is the Chance That a Child Will Have Freckles if One Parent Does?

Earlier, we mentioned that freckles are a dominant trait, so only one copy of the freckle gene is needed to have freckles.

Now, if the parent with freckles has a homozygous pattern (FF) of the freckle gene, the child will inherit the freckle gene variant 100 percent of the time.

On the other hand, if the parent has a heterozygous pattern (Ff) of the freckle gene, there’s a 50 percent chance of inheriting freckles.

It’s because there’s an equal chance of passing down the freckle and the non-freckle gene.

We can use Punnett Squares to visualize the chances of inheritance between a parent with freckles and a non-freckled parent.

The Punnet Square is a helpful tool for showing the possible outcomes in children after crossing the parents’ genes.

Are Freckles Genetically Inherited? 2

These are the possible outcomes between a parent with a heterozygous freckle gene pattern and a non-freckle parent. 

Are Freckles Genetically Inherited? 3

Are Freckles Affected by Sun Exposure?

Yes, sun exposure affects freckles.

Sun exposure can trigger the production of melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color.

People with fair or light skin have less melanin to begin with. Their skin is likely to form freckles when exposed to the sun.

Freckles commonly appear in sun-exposed body areas, like your face, arms, and shoulders. People with a family history of freckles are also more likely to develop them.

However, using sunscreen won’t get rid of your existing freckles. But it’s an excellent option to prevent getting new ones.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreen helps block 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays.5

Who Naturally Has Freckles?

You can observe freckles in people with fair skin, blond or red hair, or light eye color. Their body produces less melanin, making them more affected by sun exposure.

What Country Has the Most Freckles?

Freckles are most common in people from Northern European countries, like Ireland, Scotland, and the Nordic (Scandinavian) regions.6

They can also occur in other races and ethnicities. For instance, some Asians, especially those with fair skin, can develop freckles.

But, people with darker complexion can also have freckles, like those from Africa.

A person’s race or skin type may affect the appearance of freckles. The freckles in people with fair skin look like small, light brown spots. They are usually evenly scattered across the skin.

On the other hand, people with darker skin may have more prominent and more irregularly shaped freckles. They may also appear darker in color, like dark brown or black.

Can Freckles Be Removed or Do They Go Away?

You may not be able to remove your freckles altogether. But freckles tend to fade as you minimize sun exposure naturally. They also lessen as you age.

However, if you’re concerned about their appearance, you can try a couple of treatment options, including over-the-counter products and some cosmetic procedures.

What are the Treatment Options for Freckles?

Your treatment option for lightening or making your freckles less visible may include the following:

  • Over-the-counter products – Products containing glycolic acid and other alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) help peel the skin’s outer layer where the pigmentation happens
  • Natural remedies – These may include applying lemon, honey, buttermilk, or yogurt to your face
  • Chemical peel – This is a non-invasive cosmetic procedure that deeply exfoliates the skin to encourage the production of new skin cells
  • Laser light or laser treatment This involves a high-powered light that targets the pigmented areas in the skin

It’s best to talk to a dermatologist to know which treatment will best suit your skin type.

Do Freckles Spread with Age?

No, freckles don’t spread with age. The truth is, you tend to get fewer freckles as you grow older.

It’s because your skin doesn’t react to the sun as when you were younger. Sometimes, your body’s melanin production may decrease, leading to less pigmentation in the skin and hair.

But, you may develop sun spots or age spots, also known as solar lentigines, with age. They commonly appear in people over 40.

Solar lentigines are a result of chronic or long-term sun exposure.

Common Questions About Freckles

What Causes a Freckle on My Lip? Should I Be Concerned?

Lip freckles are mostly harmless and are a natural result of sun exposure. If you are genetically predisposed to freckles, exposure to the sun will make them more likely to appear.

Freckles can develop on sun-exposed skin areas, including your lips, because they are still part of your epidermis. The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin all over your body.

Although they aren’t usually dangerous, watching your spots is best. Tell your dermatologist as well if you observe any changes.

What are the White Freckles on My Skin?

The white freckles on your skin are called sunspots or idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis. Sunspots look like little white dots or rain droplets.

They can show up in parts of your skin exposed to the sun. But you can see them more in your arms, legs, and lower body half.

Sunspots happen because the affected areas have less pigment than the surrounding skin.

Updated on March 18, 2024

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6 sources cited
Updated on March 18, 2024
  1. The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human Skin.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  2. The Melanocortin-1-Receptor Gene Is The Major Freckle Gene.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  3. Melanocortin 1 Receptor: Structure, Function, and Regulation.” Frontiers in Genetics.
  4. Genetic Determinants Of Freckle Occurrence In The Spanish Population: Towards Ephelides Prediction From Human Dna Samples.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  5. Sunscreen FAQs.” American Academy of Dermatology Association.
  6. Genetic Determinants Of Hair, Eye And Skin Pigmentation In Europeans.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.