Learn about why babies don’t have freckles, when they develop, and what they mean for your child’s health and well-being.

By Nicole Harris

Nothing says “sun-kissed” more than a smattering of freckles. The brown spots look undoubtedly adorable on little kids, but have you ever wondered why babies don’t have freckles? We’ve broken down the cause of these specks and explored when and why some children get freckles on their face, arms, and shoulders.

What Causes Freckles?

Your skin color is influenced by a pigment called melanin, says Debra M. Langlois, M.D., a pediatrician and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. People with darker skin naturally have more melanin than lighter-skinned individuals, but everyone's body produces extra melanin when exposed to UV radiation. “Making increased melanin is your body’s way of protecting you from the sun,” Dr. Langlois explains. “Darker-skinned people tend to tan from the extra melanin, while lighter-skinned people make freckles or get a sunburn.” This explains why freckles develop in areas with the most chronic sun exposure, such as the upper cheeks, nose, and shoulders. Freckles are essentially a defense mechanism against the sun's harsh rays.

Why Don’t Babies Have Freckles?

Although anyone can have freckles, those with fair skin have a predisposition for them. Even so, freckles are a direct result of being in the sun. “Nobody would develop freckles if it wasn't for sun exposure,” says Lacey L. Kruse, M.D., FAAD, an attending physician Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and an assistant professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Babies don’t have freckles, then, because they’re not in the sun long enough for specks to develop. 

You can expect freckles to form around two to four years of age, but this timeline varies for everyone. Freckles also depend largely on the amount of UV exposure your child gets. “Sometimes freckles will even go away if the parent is better at sun protection,” adds Dr. Kruse. Freckles are usually brown in color, but they can also take on red, black, yellow, or tan hues. The specks often fade in the winter. 

Should I Worry About Freckles?

Freckles are harmless anywhere on the body. However, the spots indicate an increased sensitivity to UV rays, so parents of freckled children should be extra diligent about sun protection. “Fairer-skinned individuals have a higher risk of melanoma and skin damage, but it can really happen to anyone,” says Dr. Langlois. She recommends limiting sun exposure during peak times (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), regularly applying sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and shielding yourself from the sun with UV-protective clothing

Parents should also understand the difference between freckles and moles. “Freckles are lighter and often fade away in the winter, while moles maintain the same appearance over time,” says Dr. Kruse. Skin cancer is rare in children, but moles should be watched for signs of cancer: asymmetry, an uneven border, multiple colors, a diameter larger than 1⁄4-inch, and evolving shape, size, or color. Keep in mind that freckles also differ from solar lentigines, which are permanent but benign dark patches that form on sun-exposed adults, says Dr. Langlois. 

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