EPHILIDES [ee-FIL-eh-dees]: freckles


This past week I encountered an article in which I discovered the word ephilides…obviously a word with Greek origins…but a word I did not recognize as having ever seen it.   I looked it up and found that the Dictionary.com online said there was no such word in their lexicon.  So I went further and found that it is a perfectly legitimate word, used primarily by dermatologists.  It means, simply, freckles.   Yes, they are those non-dangerous, brown speckles that appear on the face and other body parts of people, particularly people with what I have always called “Irish skin.”

Irish skin is that pale, pigment-deprived skin which is milk-white and otherwise blemish free.   Against the traditional blue eyes and red hair of many Irish people, it is a classic, beautiful skin type not to be fiddled with and not needing much in the way of cosmetics.

My wife is Irish.   To be more accurate, her mother was an Irish-American woman.  Her father was about as British as they get.   But she inherited her mother’s Irish components, including a life-long system of freckles/ephilides on her body.   Brits have a pretty pale skin, also, so it was not a conflict for her.  It just means that she has to be very careful about overexposure to the sun’s rays.  She burns easily.

Freckles are marks that appear in our skin as a consequence to our exposure to the sun. They are usually present in people with pale skin, blond or red hair. However, what causes freckles? The active ingredient for the production of freckles is the melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.

When a person has this gene variant, and spends time under the sun, freckles will start to make their appearance, especially in the face. When the sun rays penetrate their skin, they make contact with the melanocytes, activating them. As a reaction, they will create new freckles or increase the size of the older ones.” *

To some, the freckles are a sign of pride.  They indicate a rich heritage, and are to be treasured.  To most women, however, freckles are blemishes on the skin, and many women spend thousands of dollars having them eradicated.

Bill, one of my best friends when I was a kid, was the epitome of Irish-Americans.  His face was a roadmap of freckles, and he did have the red hair and blue eyes to go with them.   I haven’t seen him in decades, so I don’t know if they’re still prominent in his life, but into his adulthood they were still a prominent part of his identity.

Some people worry about ephilides being cancerous.  Since they are sun-induced, they are less a concern about the presence of cancer, as a warning that the person should, perhaps, limit extreme exposure to the sun’s rays.

“Ephelides are benign and show no propensity for malignant transformation. While they are not a direct precursor of melanoma, ephelides are a marker of ultraviolet (UV)-induced damage and, hence, a marker for increased risk of UV-induced neoplasia.”  **

I was right that the word ephilides is from Greek origin.  Guess what it means?   Freckles.   And Freckles is a word from Old English.  And what did it mean?   Frecks, or blemishes on the skin.  i.e.: freckles.   Pretty circular, isn’t it.

The interesting thing I encountered in the numerous sites I went to:  they all said that the word ephilides is, for the most part, restricted to formal clinical texts in the medical profession.   And where did I find it?  Right there in the New York Times.   I don’t expect to encounter it again, except that it’s such an interesting word that I might just use it in something I write.


Photo Credit:  delonna

* http://skin-care-zone.blogspot.com/2011/05/get-rid-of-freckles.html

** https://www.inkling.com/read/dermatology-bolognia-jorizzo-schaffer-3rd/chapter-112/ephelides

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