An eye on freckles

New research suggests that dark spots on the iris are caused by sun exposure

14 Aug 2017 by Selina Powell

Close up of an eyeMany fair-skinned beach goers will be familiar with the dusting of freckles that surface on the skin during the summer months.

But a less known side effect of time in the sun has been pinpointed by Austrian researchers, who have linked lifetime sun exposure with an increased prevalence of dark spots on the eye.

The research, published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, involved examining the eyes of  632 swimmers at public pools in Styria, Austria.

Researchers found that the presence of iris freckles was associated with increased age, a higher number of sunburns and a history of severe sunburns resulting in blisters.

The study also reports that people with dark coloured eyes and those with better sun protection habits are less likely to have eye freckles.

While iris freckles are not malignant, they can indicate an individual’s risk for sunlight-triggered eye diseases such as cataract and macular degeneration.

Freckles were most commonly found on the lower outer quadrant of the eye, away from the nose.

Researchers hypothesised that this was because the eyebrows and nose shield the upper and inner quadrants from sun exposure, lowering the risk of developing freckles. 


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