Is this cause for concern?
White spots on the skin may be caused by many different conditions. They usually aren’t a cause for concern and may be treated at home. Keep reading to learn some of the most common causes, how to treat them, and when to head to the doctor.
What do the spots look like?
1. Tinea versicolor
Tinea versicolor can appear as white spots or spots in shades of pink, red, and brown. They’re more noticeable on tanned skin and may get larger over time.
Other symptoms include:
Everyone has microscopic yeast living on their skin, but people with tinea versicolor experience an overgrowth of the yeast.
It isn’t clear why it happens, but it may be caused by:
- excessive sweating
- oily skin
- humid, warm conditions
- a weakened immune system
Tinea versicolor most commonly occurs in people living in tropical climates. It can affect people in any ethnic group. Teenagers may be more susceptible than people in other age groups due to their more oily skin.
Symptoms usually go away in cooler weather, but they may reappear when the temperature and humidity climb. Treating the disorder in its earliest stages may help break this cycle.
If your symptoms are mild, you can try treating them at home with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal products. Antifungals help reduce yeast, eliminating or lessening the spots. Topical medications include:
Depending on how severe your symptoms are, it may be weeks or months before the spots fade. Often, the skin regains its former appearance.
If home treatments aren’t enough, a dermatologist can prescribe stronger topical creams or an oral medication. You may need to repeat these treatments periodically.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is characterized by red, itchy rashes with raised bumps. These rashes may include white spots or patches.
Commonly affected areas include:
- backs of the knees
The rash almost always itches, sometimes intensely and especially at night. If scratched, the rash can lead to open, leaky sores.
Over time, areas of the body most affected by eczema may become thickened, dry, and scaly.
Eczema rashes may flare up and recede without an obvious pattern. Symptoms may even remain dormant for years at a time.
Eczema is common in children but can affect people of any age. It may be a lifelong condition. It commonly begins before age five, and may even start during infancy. It’s also common in people who have allergies, such as hay fever.
Treatment for eczema focuses on symptom management. You may be able to reduce your symptoms with proactive behaviors that keep your skin healthy and lubricated.
Try these tips:
- Use mild cleansers instead of harsh soaps.
- Treat the rash with medicated creams.
- Keep your skin moisturized.
- Avoid overly long and hot showers or baths.
- Wear gloves when using cleaning solvents.
- Use all-natural solvents instead of chemicals.
- Avoid allergens in the environment.
- Avoid air pollution, including cigarette smoke.
Using anti-itch creams or an oral allergy medication, such as an antihistamine, may help reduce itching.
If these solutions aren’t enough, your doctor may recommend topical corticosteroids.
Vitiligo occurs when certain skin cells called melanocytes stop making melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives color to your skin, hair, and eyes. Without pigment, white patches form.
These patches can appear anywhere on the body. Vitiligo is usually symmetric, though it can appear on only one side of the body. Typical areas affected by vitiligo include the knees, hands, genitals, and hair. It can also affect areas with mucous membranes, such as the inside of the mouth and nose.
Vitiligo typically develops in your twenties, but it can occur at any age. Its cause is currently unknown. Vitiligo may be connected to genetics or autoimmune diseases, such as hyperthyroidism.
Treatment for vitiligo is cosmetic and aims to restore color to the affected skin. It can take trial and error with several therapies.
Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
- ultraviolet light therapy
Some people with vitiligo find that using cover-up cosmetics is their most effective option for reducing the appearance of white patches.
In severe cases, surgical treatments may also be an option. Your doctor can talk to you about what may be right for you.
4. Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (sun spots)
Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (IGH) manifests as small white spots on skin that receives high amounts of sun exposure. This includes areas such as arms and legs. The white spots are painless and benign.
IGH is more common in people with light skin and may appear in women at younger ages than it does in men. However, it usually affects women older than 40.
Wearing sunscreen and avoiding excessive sun exposure is a good first step toward reducing further skin damage.
Only a few options exist for treating sun spots after they appear. If you want to reduce the appearance of these white spots, talk to your doctor about calcineurin inhibitors or laser treatments.
5. Pityriasis alba
Pityriasis alba typically starts out as pink, slightly scaly plaques on the chin and cheeks. They may be round, oval, or irregular in shape, and are usually dry and scaly to the touch. The patches may clear up on their own or fade to white over time.
The skin disorder is most commonly found in children and teens. It’s also more likely to occur in people with dark skin. Pityriasis alba is likely related to eczema.
Pityriasis usually clears up on its own, but recurrences can happen. Treatments used to diminish the white patches include moisturizing creams, topical steroids, or nonsteroidal creams.
6. Lichen sclerosus
Lichen sclerosus is a rare condition seen in younger and older people. In women, it causes white patches of thin skin, usually around the anus and vulva. In men, the disorder tends to affect the foreskin of the penis. It can also be found on other areas of the body.
Mild cases may not show any other noticeable symptoms. However, when other symptoms do occur, they may include:
- painful intercourse
- severe itching
- difficulty with urination
- skin that bruises or tears easily
Lichen sclerosus doesn’t have a known cause, although hormonal imbalance or an overactive immune system may play a role.
Treatments for this condition try to reduce itching and scarring and eliminate further thinning of the skin. They may improve the skin’s appearance, as well. Your doctor may recommend topical corticosteroid lotions or creams.
When to see your doctor
White spots often clear up on their own. If they last longer than several weeks or you are distressed by their appearance, see your doctor. A doctor can help determine the cause and advise you on your options for treatment. Your doctor often needs little more than a visual assessment of the skin to make a diagnosis. In some cases, they may take a biopsy.
If your spots are accompanied by pain or intense itching that interferes with your daily life, see your doctor right away.