You know how when you were a teen you just wanted to look cool, unbothered, sophisticated maybe? Not dorky, definitely. In my case I wanted all of those things, but my freckles were holding me back. I mean, it's possible there were other things...but we're talking about freckles today, OK? At best they were dotted age-betrayers—they made me look like a child. Or a Cabbage Patch Kid. Or Chuckie from Rugrats with a dye job—and not even Rugrats in Paris, where at least something French could have been involved. At worst, they were the thing that always proved I wasn't effortless; I spent years covering them up with every thick foundation and goopy undereye concealer I could find. But shortly after my 21st birthday I was like ‘Eh, maybe I changed my mind?’ Hey, it happens. Now I see the beauty in them, and I’ve been letting my freckles fly free for the past year. And so, in an effort to support this major summer mood, I sought out the wisdom of three (what I am calling) freckle pros: board-certified dermatologist Dr. Julie Karen, aesthetician Jordana Mattioli, and the makeup artist behind Meghan Markle’s wedding skin, Daniel Martin. They taught me everything I need to know about freckles—why you get them, what to do to make them stand out, and how to wear makeup without covering them up.
Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s MC1R
Well if we’re getting technical, no one is born with it. People get freckles from the sun. Some people get freckles only on their face, some people, like a friend of mine definitely not named Liz (hi Liz), get freckles on their knees but not their stomach, and some people never get freckles at all. While it may seem like there’s no rhyme or reason to it, the likelihood of someone developing freckles is somewhat connected to genetics. “It’s not fully understood why certain people get freckles, but the cause has partly been linked to a gene called MC1R,” says Dr. Karen. “Variations in the MC1R gene are associated with normal differences in skin and hair color, and certain variations are most common in people with fair skin, freckles, and an increased sensitivity to sun exposure.” That doesn’t mean that all people with fair skin have freckles, or that all people with darker skin don’t have freckles—it just means that certain people seem to be predisposed to having them. So really, having freckles is a combination of what you’re born with and how much sun your skin gets.
Freckles don’t necessarily = sun damage
But they do mean you’ve been out in the sun without sunscreen, which seems like a good way to get sun damage, if you ask me. It pretty much takes one day in the sun without SPF to make my freckles pop out of pale winter skin. “The smallest amount of sun exposure will darken them,” concurs Jordana, “and repeated sun exposure as we age accumulates and is considered sun damage.” Obviously this is bad news for my freckle-darkening, face-sunning antics, but the good news is that you can actually kind of use freckles as a good litmus test for whether you need to up your protection. Spoiler: you probably do. “If you protect your skin diligently, your freckles should be faint,” says Jordana. But! I refuse to take this answer because it is summer and I want dark freckles and popsicles (unrelated)! Luckily, there is another way—darkening them with makeup. “If you want to enhance freckles you already have or just cheat the appearance of them,” says Daniel. “I would suggest using the Ardell Stroke A Brow Feathering Pen in Taupe. This smudge-proof formula and shade mimics natural freckles without looking made up.” I like to take the pen and dot it right on top of the freckles I already have, and then pat it in with a finger so it doesn’t look like it’s sitting on top of my skin. You can use any brown eyeliner you already own for this trick, but Daniel emphasizes, “make sure what you use is waterproof!”
Work with what you’ve got
Forgive me, but I’m not drawing on my freckles every day. If I had that much time in the morning, I’d probably go to the gym or at least like, cook breakfast and consider going to the gym. What’s a lazy girl to do? “The trick to having one's freckles come through without needing to darken them with a pen is to selectively cover what you need on the skin,” says Daniel, a master at this if there ever was one. “If there's uneven skin tone that needs help, use a small concealer brush and spot treat those areas.” Per his suggestion, I try using this concealer brush from IT Cosmetics and selectively buff around my nose and chin with Dior Backstage Foundation in 1.5N—to great effect. It’s buildable, so a tiny bit evens out any dark spots, and a second go-around on any spots is all it takes to cover them. I complete the look with brushed up brows and Cloud Paint in Storm blended onto the tops of my cheeks and across my nose, exactly where the sun would hit and exactly where my freckles are. It’s enough to fool my coworkers into thinking I was out in the sun over the weekend, but sheer enough that I don’t feel like I’m wearing anything. It's that carefree good skin thing we had as kids, but never appreciated. I'm half inspired to revert back to hair wraps, or maybe some lip gloss—stay tuned for updates.
Photo via ITG