Sun Spots vs. Freckles

When you see new dark spots on your skin, you may wonder where they came from. Usually, they're freckles or sunspots. But what’s the difference?

Sun spots and freckles have their own causes and can differ in appearance, most notably, sunspots tend to be larger and more noticeable. For some, both sun spots and freckles can make them self-conscious—especially when they’re on their face. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce the prevalence of either issue.

Learn more about the differences between sunspots vs. freckles so you know what’s causing the spots on your face. We’ll also share some of the ways you can prevent them and minimize their appearance in the future.

What Are Sun Spots?

Sunspots are blemishes on your skin that arise from sun exposure. Sometimes, you'll hear them called age spots or liver spots. Solar lentigines are another name for this skin issue.

A sunspot appears as a flat, brown spot and can form in areas where your skin receives sun exposure. As such, the most common locations for these spots are your back, arms, and face. Though they can develop during any stage of your life, they most often become visible on the skin when you're in your 40s or older.

We should note that sunspots are non-cancerous. They can, however, increase in size over time, and more may appear over time.

Sunspots and freckles are not dangerous.

What Are Freckles?

Freckles are small, dark spots that form on your skin. These marks are flat and usually round in nature. While you're more prone to freckles based on genetics, you're not actually born with them. They're sun freckles because they appear from sun exposure. If you have freckles, they tend to be most noticeable in the summer when you're getting more sun exposure. They tend to fade in the wintertime.

Those of African American, Mediterranean, or Asian descent may have freckles, but they're most common in people of Celtic descent. That's why you tend to see them most often on those with fair skin and red hair. Natural blondes and anyone with skin that doesn't tan well are more likely to display them as well. Usually, they're red to brown in color and start appearing when a person is between the ages of two to three years old.

Fortunately for those with freckles, they're non-cancerous and won't become malignant.

Smiling woman with freckles.

Sun Spots vs. Freckles: What’s the Difference?

While they do share some similarities, there are some key differences to note between sun spots vs. freckles.


When determining if those dark spots are freckles or sun spots, it's important to know what causes them.

With freckles, the spots appear as a result of sun exposure. However, it's a genetic condition. Variants of the MC1R gene are associated with freckles. This particular gene supplies the body with instructions for making melanin—the dark pigment that's responsible for the color of your skin, hair, and eyes. It affects how you tan. Some people's skin produces pheomelanin, and these are the individuals who burn easily and are more likely to freckle.

So, are freckles sun damage? No, but sun spots are.

Sunspots are hyperpigmentation but have no genetic link. People of all races, ethnicities, and skin types can develop them. When you have sun spots on the skin, they come from sun exposure that’s caused damage to the skin cells. This damage then causes them to produce an overproduction of melanin. As a result, a sunspot forms.


Freckles are smaller than sun spots. Usually, freckles are between one and two millimeters in diameter. Some are two millimeters or larger, but they're almost always less than six millimeters in diameter.


Although you'll notice sun spots on the skin as you age, freckles usually become less noticeable as you age. Sun spots can worsen as you age. They're more stubborn and can be difficult to get rid of.

Sunspots vs freckles key differences explained.

Sun Exposure & Your Skin

Your body needs the sun for vitamin D production, but the UV rays from the sun are damaging to your skin if you're not wearing sunscreen or one with high enough SPF. SPF means sun protection factor, which is a measurement that determines a sunscreen's ability to protect the skin from UV rays. In general, it’s recommended that you wear SPF 30 or higher to adequately protect yourself from the sun.

If you’re not applying sunscreen, aren't reapplying it as you should, or are wearing too low of an SPF, you increase your risk of a number of problems related to sun exposure. Keep in mind that those who are in the sun more often are more prone to these issues. This includes both freckles and sunspots.

Wrinkling is a problem from prolonged sun exposure as well. While some degree of wrinkling will occur with age, sun exposure can worsen it. The sun's UV rays break down the collagen and elastin in your skin, which is essential for maintaining skin elasticity and youthfulness.

Additionally, melasma and moles come from sun exposure. Moles are specifically from the melanocytes in the skin growing in groups. These cells produce melanin, which is why they're dark spots. The sun can promote further growth. Melasma causes light brown, dark brown, blue, or gray spots on the skin. Pregnant women may develop melasma on their faces, but it can affect anyone who exposes their skin to the sun.

Skin cancer is the most serious of all problems from sun exposure. While it tends to remain local on the skin, melanoma spreads beyond the skin more often than other types of skin cancer. It can even be deadly.

As you can see, it’s essential to protect your skin for many reasons.

How to Protect Your Skin

The good news is, protecting your skin isn’t hard, it just takes some adjustments to your lifestyle and forming some good habits. Some ways to protect your skin include:

Wear UVA and UVB Protection

Make sure you wear UVA and UVB protection on your skin every day. Apply it to your face and all other exposed areas of your body.

You want to choose sun protection that’s going to offer the most benefits. When comparing sunblock vs. sunscreen, both protect your skin from the sun, but it’s important to know the differences. These terms are often used interchangeably but traditionally they are defined as:

  • Sunblock creates a shield between your skin and the sun and blocks the UV rays. This is now typically referred to as a physical sunscreen.
  • Sunscreen, on the other hand, absorbs the UV rays so they don't reach your skin. These are known as chemical sunscreens.

Generally, it’s recommended to use a physical sunscreen because you don’t have to worry about potential risks of chemicals absorbing into your bloodstream. For a physical sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection, SPF 30 and higher, and all-natural ingredients, try our mineral sunscreens with easy application options.

Reapply Sunscreen

It’s not just enough to wear sunscreen, you also need to reapply. In general, it is recommended that you reapply every two hours or less. However, if you’re going to be sweating or swimming, you’ll need to reapply more often—every 40 to 80 minutes depending on the level of water resistance your sunscreen offers. Colorescience water-resistant sunscreens offer up to 80 minutes of protection.

Sun protection advantages for your skin.

Limit Your Time Outdoors

Although spending time outside provides its share of benefits, limit the amount of time you spend outdoors to reduce your sun exposure.

When you choose to participate in outdoor activities, opt for times outside of peak sun hours.

Invest in Quality Sun Protection

When you're protecting your skin from sun spots and other UV-related skin damage, using a quality sunscreen matters. Consider choosing a sunscreen with safe, natural ingredients and SPF 50, like our brush-on sunscreen. It’s easy to apply and can be worn with makeup. For a traditional liquid sunscreen, our Face Shield Flex comes in several shades for buildable coverage with a demi-matte finish for all skin types.

In addition to UV rays that contribute to sun spots, our mineral sunscreens protect against environmental stressors that damage your skin like pollution and blue light.

How to Treat Sunspots

If you already have sunspots, you aren’t necessarily stuck with them. There are treatments you can try to minimize their appearance, including:

  • Light Therapy: With this treatment, light energy is directed at your skin and targets melanin-producing cells. When this happens, the skin is triggered to heal itself, which can help get rid of sun spots that are visible on the surface.
  • Peels: A chemical peel begins with a practitioner placing a substance on your face. It consists of an acid that'll gently work to expose the undamaged next layer of skin.
  • Micro-needling: Micro-needling, despite its name, is a painless procedure, though it does use tiny needles. It triggers collagen production to heal the skin. You then get rid of any old, damaged skin cells, and healthy, new ones will appear in their places.
  • Use Skin Treatments: Skin treatments can help improve the appearance of sun spots. Try our Pep Up® Collagen Boost that optimizes collagen production to combat the signs of aging. It helps with both skin texture and tone. Or, you could try the Even Up® Multi-Correction Serum, which has active ingredients that give you a more even skin tone by lessening the appearance of age spots and other skin discoloration.

Feel Confident while Keeping Your Skin Healthy

While sun spots and freckles aren’t causing any harm, they can make you feel self-conscious when you look in the mirror. If that’s the case, now that you have a better understanding of sun spots vs. freckles, you can take the right steps to deal with them.

Ultimately, if you want your skin to look its best, you need to treat it right. Start by using high-SPF sunscreen and skin treatments that target discoloration. Limit your sun exposure, and don't be afraid to use products to help lessen the intensity of your sunspots. With a little TLC, you can feel good about your complexion again.

Shop Colorescience today to find sun and skin care that helps you prevent and get rid of sun spots.