A macule is simply the medical term for a small area of discolored skin, including freckles and age spots.

A macule is a flat, distinct, discolored area of skin less than 1 centimeter (cm) wide. It doesn’t involve any change in the thickness or texture of the skin. Areas of discoloration that are larger than or equal to 1 cm are referred to as patches.

Certain conditions such as vitiligo are characterized by white or lighter macules or patches on the skin.

Macules are flat lesions that are less than 1 cm in size. They are identified by simply looking at them and touching them. If the lesion (such as a dark spot on the skin) isn’t raised and it’s less than 1 cm in size, it’s by definition a macule.

A macule can be a variety of colors based on the cause. For example, macules can be moles (which are hyperpigmented, or darker, relative to the skin) or vitiligo lesions (which are hypopigmented or depigmented, or lighter, relative to the skin).

The term “rash” refers to a collection of new changes on the skin. Rashes can have macules, patches (flat spots at least 1 cm in size), papules (raised skin lesions less than 1 cm in size), plaques (raised skin lesions at least 1 cm in size), and more, depending on the type of rash.

“Macule” is just a word that doctors use to describe what they see on the skin. If you have a skin lesion (or many) that is flat and less than 1 cm in size, and want to find out what’s causing it, consider seeing a dermatologist.

Macules can be caused by various conditions that affect the appearance of your skin, resulting in areas of discoloration. Conditions that are likely to cause macules are:

  • vitiligo
  • moles
  • freckles
  • sun spots, age spots, and liver spots
  • post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (such as that which occurs after acne lesions heal)
  • tinea versicolor

Once your doctor diagnoses the cause of your macules, they might be able to prescribe treatment for your condition. There are many different causes of macules, so treatments vary widely.

Your macules may not go away, but treating the condition that’s causing them may help prevent further growth of the macules you have. It may also prevent the formation of new macules.

Vitiligo treatments

Macules caused by vitiligo are often difficult to treat. Treatment options for macules caused by vitiligo include:

  • light therapy
  • topical steroids
  • surgery

Some might choose no medical treatment, opting for cover-ups such as makeup.

In mild cases, using a special makeup to cover areas of vitiligo can be helpful. You can buy this makeup at specialty drugstores and department stores.

If enough skin is involved, some people consider depigmenting the surrounding skin to create a uniform depigmentation. Ultimately, the decision is up to the individual. Some people choose to embrace their vitiligo.

A macule is just a physical exam finding. If you’re concerned about your skin, talk to a dermatologist to get an accurate diagnosis.