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I Didn't Know That . . .

March 16, 2000

Q: What are freckles?

A: Concentrated suntan. When we sit in sunlight, special cells in the skin called melanocytes produce a dark chemical called melanin that protects against the harmful effects of the sun. About one of every 10 skin cells is a melanocyte and, when they are working properly, they produce a uniform, healthy-looking tan. But some people, particularly those with light skin or red hair, are genetically predisposed to have larger, more active melanocytes--but to have fewer than normal. In these people, the melanin produced by exposure to the sun does not spread uniformly through the skin, but accumulates in small areas that we call freckles. People who freckle usually have skin that sunburns easily and thus have a higher than normal risk of skin cancer.

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