Share this article

Some say freckles come from the kiss of an angel. But we know where most of them really come from. They come from genes. And the sun. Even though they're most visible on people who have light skin, anyone can have freckles. AncestryDNA®can tell you whether you're likely to have freckles according to your DNA. But what your DNA says isn't always what you see.

What Causes Freckles

Woman with frecklesFreckles are small concentrated areas of a pigment called melanin in your skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives your hair, skin, and eyes their color.

In some people, the cells that make melanin (known as melanocytes) are spread out evenly throughout their skin. This means they tan well. 

Others have melanocytes in clusters. It is these clusters of pigment-producing cells that are known as freckles.

Freckles Genetics 

Parents with freckles often have kids with freckles. But not always.

This is because the inheritance of freckles is complex. There are many genes involved, and they can interact with one another in lots of different ways. Some combinations give freckles, some don’t.

For example, one gene, MC1R, is tied to both freckles and red hair. If both copies of the gene are changed, you’re a redhead. If only one copy is changed, you’ll get freckles—but not always. And scientists still don’t know why.

Science of Freckles

AncestryDNA looks at four well-studied genetic markers that have been linked to freckling. These are in the genes IRF4, BNC2, OCA2, and MC1R.

These four genes are linked to the production of melanin in some way. The markers AncestryDNA looks at affect how these genes work and so partially determine whether you will have freckles or not.

But some people have a marker for freckles and don't have them. So there are obviously other genetic and non-genetic factors involved.

Fun Facts About Freckles 

Newborn babies never have freckles. Freckles first show up in children when they're between two and four years old, because their skin needs a certain amount of time in the sun to start making those melanin spots, those "angels' kisses."

Freckles occur in people with heritage from around the world. Because they're often seen in people with red hair, freckles are commonly associated with Ireland and Scotland, where this hair color is common as well. But anyone can get freckles.