Why Babies Don't Have Freckles

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

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?

Read on to learn about the cause of these specks and explore when and why some children get freckles on their faces, 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 those with lighter skin, 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.

Baby with Freckles

Why Don’t Babies Have Freckles?

Although anyone can have freckles, those with fair skin have a predisposition to 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 at 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 because they're not in the sun long enough for specks to develop.

According to Stanford Medicine Children's Health, freckles can form around 2 to 4 years of age, but this timeline varies for everyone. Freckles also depend primarily 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 but can also take on red, black, yellow, or tan hues. The specks often fade in the winter.

Should I Worry About Freckles?

According to research published in Nature Communications, people with the MC1R gene, linked to red hair, freckling, and sun sensitivity, are at increased risk of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. In addition, those genes may increase some people's skin cancer risk to the equivalent of spending 21 years in the sun!

So, while freckles aren't dangerous in and of themselves, the genes that cause them may mean your child has some risk factors for more serious health concerns. As a result, taking some precautions to protect your freckly kiddo is a good idea.

Protect skin in the sun

"Fairer-skinned individuals have a higher risk of melanoma and skin damage, but it can really happen to anyone," says Dr. Langlois. She recommends:

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.

Monitor freckles and moles

Skin cancer is rare in children, but you should keep an eye on your child's moles and freckles for signs of cancer, such as:

  • Asymmetry
  • Uneven border
  • Multiple colors
  • Diameter larger than 1/4-inch
  • Evolving shape, size, or color

Remember that freckles also differ from solar lentigines, which are permanent but benign dark patches that form on sun-exposed adults, says Dr. Langlois.

The Bottom Line

Freckles are usually 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. That, combined with watching freckles for any changes, will lower your child's risk of developing skin cancer.

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