Eye Freckles Can Tell You Something Really Important About Your Sun Health

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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 freckles  dark spots on the colored part of the eye (the iris) — are more frequently found in people with higher lifetime exposure to sunlight. They’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.

“While we do not know the exact role of sunlight in several eye diseases, we now have a biomarker (iris freckles) indicating high amounts of chronic sunlight exposure,” stated lead study author Christoph Schwab, MD, in a press release.

Iris freckles are dense collections of pigmented cells called melanocytes, Brian Boxer Wachler, MD, eye surgeon and author of the upcoming book Perceptual Intelligence: The Brain’s Secret to Seeing Past Illusion, Misperception, and Self-Deception, explains to Yahoo Beauty. “And the good news is that they don’t cause any harm to the eyes.”

The researchers state that people with dark eyes were less likely to have eye freckles, “as well as those who maintained better sun protection habits, like using sunscreen or covering up.” Boxer Wachler notes that iris freckles can simply signal that someone has been soaking in an excessive amount of the sun’s rays while unprotected.

“I 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 — i.e., wearing sunglasses — and have less eye freckles,” he continues.

And even though doctors can remove 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.

“Wear sunglasses — particularly with a wraparound design — to block as much sun from hitting the eyes as possible,” states Boxer Wachler. Also, top off your look with a hat, since both accessories “protect other parts of the eyes where the sun causes damage — such as freckles on the whites of the eyes, which can cause emotional distress for people because others often mistakenly think it’s a sign of being unhealthy or chronically tired.”

Keep in mind that you’ll want to be covered up behind the wheel, as well.

“Another source of sun exposure that people don’t realize is driving a car or truck because most vehicle side windows have poor UV blockage,” 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 was consistently high but was lower and highly variable in side windows — which offered a possible explanation for increased rates of cataract in left eyes, as well as left-sided facial skin cancer.

If you’re interested in checking the level of UV protection on your side windows, you can request a free UV tester on his website. “If someone confirms their side windows have poor UV protection,” he says, “then they can have a 99 percent UV film put on the side windows to protect their eyes and face.”

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