Yes, freckles can pop up in other places besides your skin.
According to research published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, scientists from Austria found that eye frecklesÂ â€” dark spots on the colored part of the eye (the iris) â€” are more frequently found in people with higher lifetime exposure to sunlight. Theyâ€™re also often linked with those who have a history of severe sunburns resulting in blisters. In some cases, eye freckles may indicate the presence or risk of sunlight-triggered eye diseases, such as cataract or macular degeneration.
â€œWhile we do not know the exact role of sunlight in several eye diseases,Â we now have a biomarker (iris freckles) indicatingÂ high amounts of chronic sunlight exposure,â€ stated lead study author Christoph Schwab, MD,Â in a press release.
Iris freckles are dense collections of pigmented cells called melanocytes,Â Brian Boxer Wachler, MD, eye surgeon and author of the upcoming bookÂ Perceptual Intelligence: The Brainâ€™s Secret to Seeing Past Illusion, Misperception, and Self-Deception, explains to Yahoo Beauty. â€œAnd the good news is that they donâ€™t cause any harm to the eyes.â€
The researchers state that people with dark eyes were less likely to have eye freckles, â€œas well as those who maintained better sun protection habits, like using sunscreen or covering up.â€ Boxer Wachler notesÂ that iris freckles can simply signal that someone has been soaking in an excessive amount of the sunâ€™s rays while unprotected.
â€œI think the researchers are implying that if people are mindful about sun protection of their body, they probably would be more likely to protect their eyes â€” i.e., wearing sunglasses â€” and have less eye freckles,â€ he continues.
And even though doctors can removeÂ freckles on the whites of the eyes, there is currently no treatment for making iris freckles disappear. As for how to protect your peepers from freckling: sport a pair of shades.
â€œWear sunglasses â€” particularly with a wraparound design â€” to block as much sun from hitting the eyes as possible,â€ states Boxer Wachler. Also, top off your look with a hat, since both accessories â€œprotect other parts of the eyes where the sun causes damage â€” such as freckles on the whites of the eyes, which can cause emotional distress for people because others often mistakenly think itâ€™s a sign of being unhealthy or chronically tired.â€
Keep in mind that youâ€™ll want to be covered up behind the wheel, as well.
â€œAnother source of sun exposure that people donâ€™t realize is driving a car or truck because most vehicle side windows have poor UV blockage,â€ adds Boxer Wachler. In fact, he was the lead researcher in a study, published online in JAMA Ophthalmology, concluding that ultraviolet A (UV-A) light protection in the front windshields of automobiles wasÂ consistently high but was lower and highly variable in side windows â€” which offeredÂ a possible explanation for increased rates of cataract in left eyes, as well as left-sided facial skin cancer.
If youâ€™re interested in checking the level of UV protection on your side windows, you can request a free UV tester on his website. â€œIf someone confirms their side windows have poor UV protection,â€ he says, â€œthen they can have a 99 percent UV film put on the side windows to protect their eyes and face.â€