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What causes macule? 8 possible conditions

What Is a Macule?

A macule is a flat, distinct, discolored area of skin less than 1 cm wide that does not involve any change in the thickness or texture of the skin.

A macule occurs without the presence of physical trauma. It is a symptom of medical conditions such as vitiligo (a skin condition characterized by white patches on the skin) and rosacea (an inflammatory skin condition that includes red macules).

Areas of discoloration that are larger than 1 cm are referred to as patches. Macules affect people of all ages and are most commonly seen in babies, young children, and older adults.

Identifying Macules

Macules can appear on any part of the body, but they are most commonly seen on the back, chest, arms, and face. A macule may be hypopigmented (lighter than the skin) or hyperpigmented (darker than the skin). A birthmark may be considered a macule if it is small. Larger birthmarks are considered to be patches.

A rash may be referred to as a macule if the color of the rash is different from the color of the skin on the body. This form of macule is caused by infection or disease. Hyperpigmented macules may be referred to as café au lait spots.

Call your doctor if the areas of macules contain lesions or if they become inflamed or itchy. This may be a sign of infection.

What Causes Macules?

Macules can be caused by many different conditions that affect the appearance of the skin. These changes cause areas of discoloration to appear on the skin. Conditions that are likely to cause macules are:

  • vitiligo
  • skin cancer
  • ultraviolet light exposure (age spots)

What Treatment Options Are Available for Macules?

Once the cause of the macules is diagnosed, you’ll be given treatment for the condition. Although the macules may not go away, treating the condition that’s causing them to appear may help prevent further growth of the macules you have or the formation of new macules.

Vitiligo Treatments

Macules caused by vitiligo are difficult to treat. Treatment works best early on in the disease. Treatment options for macules caused by vitiligo include light therapy, immunosuppressive medications, and skin grafts.

In most cases, a sufficient treatment would be to use special makeup to cover the patches of vitiligo. This makeup is available for purchase at specialty drug stores and department stores. De-pigmenting the surrounding skin may be a treatment option because the patches of vitiligo lack pigment. This would essentially change your entire skin color to match the patches of vitiligo. This treatment option is given as a last resort.

Birthmark macules usually do not pose a problem and have no definitive treatment options.

Macules caused by skin cancer may be treated using chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Any abnormal cancerous growths protruding from the skin may be removed through surgery.

Future Health Complications

Most causes of macules are harmless and only cause a distortion to the skin’s appearance. However, people with several macules may develop mental distress because of their altered appearance.

Symptoms of mental distress include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • social anxiety

These conditions may be treated with therapy. However, if therapy doesn’t work, you may be given antidepressant medications to relieve the symptoms.

Macules caused by advanced skin cancer or untreated skin cancer may cause permanent discoloration of the skin in the affected area. They may also lead to the spread of cancer to other areas of the body.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.



Vitiligo is a condition in which you lose the pigment of your skin. Pigment causes skin color and is produced by cells called "melanocytes." Another word for pigment is "melanin." Most people with vitiligo lose pigmen...

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Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor is a condition characterized by lighter or darker patches of skin. It's caused by a fungus on your skin that grows out of control.

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German Measles (Rubella)

German measles, also known as rubella, is a rare viral condition. One of its symptoms is a pink rash that begins on the face and spreads downward.

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Measles is a very contagious infection of the respiratory system. One of its several symptoms is a sore or swollen throat.

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Tuberous Sclerosis

Tuberous sclerosis (TS) is a rare genetic condition. Sometimes called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), the disorder causes noncancerous (benign) tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs, and on the skin...

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Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis, or sun spots, is a common skin condition. It occurs when skin cells grow abnormally, forming scaly, discolored spots.

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Candida Fungus Skin Infection

Candida is a type of fungus that can cause an infection in your skin. In normal conditions, your skin may host small amounts of this fungus, but problems arise when it begins to multiply and creates an overgrowth...

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Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by the Leishmania parasite found in sand flies.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.