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Eye Freckles: A Sign of Excessive Sun Exposure

Research Spotlight: Iris Freckles a Potential Biomarker for Chronic Sun Damage.


Why Does This Matter?

  • By finding a possible early sign of skin cancer, individuals can be treated early against the cancer
  • Many people have eye freckles, but little know why these freckles are formed

From the faux freckle trend to appearing on famous celebrities, freckles are widely celebrated. However, less commonly known are freckles that appear on the eyes. Though less widely acknowledged, iris freckles or eye freckles, or freckles on the colored part of the eye, affect 60% of all individuals.[1] Despite iris freckles being so common, there is little known about the cause of these eye freckles. With this, one research team tested to see if sun exposure was the cause of these eye freckles.


Finding the Cause of These Eye Freckles

In the study, 632 participants were analyzed based on their amount of eye freckles and sun exposure each participant endured. After this analysis, the researchers examined their eyes even more closely under a special eye examining tool, called a slit lamp. Based on this analysis, 76.1% of all the participants had at least one eye freckle, and the majority of the participants had eye freckles on both of their eyes. Of these participants, individuals who were around 41 years old were noted to have a significantly greater number of iris freckles. Those who had iris freckles generally had more severe sunburns than those with no iris freckles. Furthermore, individuals who did not regularly wear protective eyewear had a greater number of iris freckles.


Verdict: Eye Freckles Caused by Sun Exposure

Based on the study’s results, researchers found possible parallels between iris freckles and skin freckles, as sunlight exposure can cause skin freckles[2]. Similarly, eyes are constantly exposed to sunlight, which can cause eye freckles. Iris freckles could potentially be an indicator of excessive amounts of sun exposure, and more importantly, harmful diseases that form based on sunlight exposure, such as skin cancer. Therefore, iris freckles may potentially be a noninvasive tool for future diagnoses regarding harmful diseases.

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  1. Eagle RC, Jr. Iris pigmentation and pigmented lesions: an ultrastructural study. Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc.1988;86:581-687; PMID: 2979031 Link to research.
  2. Cichorek M, Wachulska M, Stasiewicz A, et al. Skin melanocytes: biology and development. Postepy Dermatol Alergol.2013;30(1):30-41; PMID: 24278043 Link to research.