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What’s Causing White Spots on My Face and How Can I Treat Them?

Is this cause for concern?

Skin discolorations are common, especially on the face. Some people develop red acne patches, and others may develop dark age spots. But one particular skin discoloration might have you scratching your head.

You may notice white spots speckled across your cheeks or elsewhere on your face. Sometimes, these spots can cover a large surface area and may even extend to other parts of your body.

A number of conditions can cause white spots to form on your face, and they generally aren’t cause for concern. Here’s a look at the most common causes and how to handle them.

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Pictures

Pictures

Milia

1. Milia

Milia develops when keratin gets trapped under the skin. Keratin is a protein that makes up the outer layer of skin. This causes the formation of tiny white-colored cysts on the skin. This condition most often occurs in children and adults, but it’s also seen in newborn babies.

When white spots are caused by entrapped keratin, it’s called primary milia. However, these tiny white cysts can also form on skin as the result of a burn, sun damage, or poison ivy. Cysts may also develop after a skin resurfacing procedure or after using a topical steroid cream.

Milia can develop on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and around the eyes. Some people also form cysts in their mouths. These bumps usually aren’t painful or itchy, and the condition typically resolves itself without treatment within a few weeks.

If your condition doesn't improve within a few months, your doctor may prescribe a topical retinoid cream or recommend microdermabrasion or an acid peel to repair damaged skin. Your doctor can also use a special tool to extract the bumps.

Learn more: Baby acne or rash? 5 types and how to treat them »

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Pityriasis alba

2. Pityriasis alba

Pityriasis alba is a type of eczema that causes a flaky, oval patch of discolored white skin to appear. This skin disorder affects about 5 percent of children around the world, primarily between the ages of 3 and 16.

The exact cause of this condition is unknown. It’s usually seen in the setting of atopic dermatitis. It may be connected to sun exposure or a yeast that causes hypopigmentation.

Pityriasis alba often clears on its own within a few months, although discoloration can last up to three years.

If you’re experiencing symptoms, apply moisturizing cream on any dry spots and use an over-the-counter (OTC) topical steroid, such as hydrocortisone, to relieve any itchiness or redness.

Vitiligo

3. Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a skin disorder caused by loss of pigmentation. These patches of depigmented skin can form anywhere on the body. This includes your:

  • face
  • arms
  • hands
  • legs
  • feet
  • genitals

These patches may be small in size initially and gradually increase until white areas cover a large percentage of the body. However, widespread white spots don’t occur in all cases.

This condition can develop at any age, although most people don’t show symptoms of the disease until their 20s. Your risk for vitiligo increases if there’s a family history of the disease.

Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Your doctor may recommend topical creams, ultraviolet light therapy, or oral medication to help restore skin color and stop the spread of white patches.

Skin grafts are also effective for getting rid of small patches of white skin. To do this, your doctor will remove skin from one part of your body and attach it to another part of your body.

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Tinea versicolor

4. Tinea versicolor

Tinea versicolor, also known as pityriasis versicolor, is a skin disorder caused by an overgrowth of yeast. Yeast is a common type of fungus on the skin, but in some it can cause a rash. Tinea versicolor spots can appear scaly or dry and vary in color.

Some people with this condition develop pink, red, or brown spots, and others develop white spots. If you have lighter skin, white spots may be unnoticeable until your skin tans.

This skin disorder can occur in people of all ages, but it commonly affects people who live in humid climates, as well as people who have oily skin or a compromised immune system.

Because tinea vesicular is caused by an overgrowth of yeast, antifungal medications are the primary line of defense. Talk to your doctor about OTC or prescription antifungal products. This includes shampoos, soaps, and creams. Apply as directed until white spots improve.

Your doctor can also prescribe an oral antifungal medication, such as fluconazole, to stop and prevent the overgrowth of yeast.

White patches typically disappear once the fungus is under control. It can take weeks or months for skin to return to its normal color. Without consistent treatment with topicals, it often recurs.

Learn more: Is it psoriasis or tinea versicolor? »

Tinea versicolor and pregnancy

Your body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy, including skin changes. In addition to developing dark spots, stretch marks, and acne, some expecting women develop tinea versicolor. This generally isn’t a cause for concern. Skin color usually returns once hormone levels return to normal.

Learn more: The second trimester of pregnancy: Changes in skin, vision, and gums »

If you want to more quickly fade any spots you may be experiencing, talk to your doctor about antifungal treatments that are safe to use during pregnancy.

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Sun spots

5. Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (sun spots)

Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis, or sun spots, are white spots that form on the skin as a result of long-term UV exposure. The number and size of white spots vary, but they’re generally round, flat, and between 2 and 5 millimeters.

These spots can develop on different parts of the body including your:

  • face
  • arms
  • back
  • legs

This condition is more evident in people with fair skin, and your risk for sun spots increases with age. Women often develop spots at an earlier age than men.

Because these white spots are caused by UV exposure, you should use sun protection to prevent sun spots from worsening. This may help prevent new ones from forming.

Different treatments can reduce the appearance of white spots and restore color. Options include topical steroids to reduce skin inflammation and retinoids to stimulate cell growth and hyperpigmentation.

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See your doctor

When to see your doctor

Most white spots on the skin aren’t a major cause for concern. Still, it’s important to see a doctor or dermatologist for a diagnosis, especially if the white spots spread or don’t respond to home treatment after a couple of weeks.

You might shrug off a white spot that doesn't itch or hurt, but continue to monitor your skin. With early intervention, your doctor can recommend products to possibly restore pigmentation.

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