White Spots on Skin: 9 Common Causes with Treatments

The skin is one of the most sensitive organs in the human body, white spots on the skin are among the most common skin conditions in the world. If you have white spots on your skin, you don’t have to worry – They usually aren’t a cause for concern. However, having white spots on your skin can be very uncomfortable, and what’s worse? It may be caused by other health problems. So you should know the common causes of this condition first.

White spots on the skin usually occur when skin proteins or dead cells become trapped under the skin’s surface. It could also appear as a result of depigmentation (when your skin loses its color).

Although white spots usually appear across the face, these spots can sometimes extend to other areas of your body. As we go through this article, you’d learn the different causes of white spots, and discover the best ways to treat them.

Fortunately, with proper guidance, you can treat your white spots at home. A lot of conditions could trigger the white spots on your skin. It could be due to depigmentation or dead skin cells trapped under the surface of your skin.

White Spots on the Skin
White Spots on the Skin

9 Common Causes of White Spots on Skin with Treatments

  1. Tinea Versicolor (pityriasis Versicolor)

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Tinea versicolor is a skin condition that affects both adolescents and adults. The White spots appear when a natural fungus on the skin (pityrosporum ovale) outgrows the skin’s good micro-organisms and alter the skin’s pigmentation.

When this happens, several patches of the skin may become lighter, leading to white spots. Tinea versicolor spots could also appear pink, red, or brown. These white spots may be dry, itchy, and grow in clusters.

A lot of factors can trigger Tinea versicolor on your skin. They include oily skin, hormonal changes, pregnancy, excessive sweating, and hot weather.

Tinea versicolor spots are very noticeable in warm and humid environments. In rare cases, Tinea versicolor could be a symptom of a weakened immune system.

Treatment for Tinea Versicolor

Many over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments can treat tinea versicolor, especially if your skin condition is mild.

A few antifungal lotions that are effective against Tinea versicolor include:

  • Terbinafine (Lamisil AT) cream or gel
  • Clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF) cream or lotion
  • Selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue) 1 percent lotion
  • Miconazole (Micaderm) cream
  • Zinc pyrithione soap

How to use antifungal medications:

Before applying any antifungal creams, make sure you wash and dry the affected area.

Apply a thin layer of cream on the white spot and massage thoroughly. For optimum results, you can apply it twice a day before bedtime for at least 2 weeks.

If your antifungal agent is a shampoo, wait for 5-10 minutes before you rinse it off after applying it. If your Tinea versicolor doesn’t fade and your white spots persist, you may need to see your doctor for a stronger medication. The topical skin agents may also protect your skin from UV rays, and reduce skin discoloration.

  1. Eczema (Atopic dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis

Eczema is a common skin condition that affects the face, scalp, hands, feet, back, and elbows. Eczema is usually characterized by inflamed, red, itchy rashes. The area affected by eczema may display patches lighter than the surrounding skin.

Overtime, eczema patches may become dry, thick, and scaly. To date, there’s no confirmed cause of eczema. What’s worse? The white spots can appear and disappear without an obvious pattern. Although it typically occurs in children, it can affect people of any age.

In extreme cases, eczema could last for a lifetime, even if the symptoms remain dormant for a long time. Certain allergies like hayfever could trigger eczema on your skin.

Pro tip: Eczema may come with an unbearable itch, especially at night. Make sure you don’t scratch the rashes, itching the affected area may cause blisters or open sores.

Treatment for Eczema 

Treating eczema at its earliest stage is the best way to deal with this skin condition.

You can treat your eczema and reduce itching with topical treatments, oral drugs, or with a new injectable biologic (monoclonal antibody) called dupilumab (Dupixent).

Other medications include:

  • Topical corticosteroids creams and ointments
  • Antihistamine
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors

Eczema can be recurring. You may need to try various treatments to keep your eczema in check. In some cases, symptoms of Atopic dermatitis may still flare up after treatment. If topical treatments don’t work, your doctor may suggest light therapy.

  1. Milia

Milia
Milia

Keratin is a protein that makes up the outer layer of skin. When your skin traps this keratin and other dead skin under its surface, the white cysts that form are called Milia.

Your Milia appear as small, white, or yellow bumps on the skin. What’s worse? The skin condition affects both children and adults.

In fact, in some cases, Milia could be seen in newborn babies. Milia can form around the eyes, nose, cheeks, and on the forehead.

Milia could also be as a result of sunburn, blisters, or injury on the skin. Although the bumps may be unsightly, they don’t itch and are usually not painful. Your white spots may also develop after skin resurfacing or after using steroid cream.

Treatment for Milia

Unlike most skin disorders, Milia may not require treatment because it clears up on its own. For newborn babies, the white spots will disappear after a few weeks.

In children and adults, the white patches may disappear within a few months. If your white spots don’t clear up within a few months, your doctor may suggest Topical retinoids, Chemical peels, Laser ablation or cryotherapy.

  1. Vitiligo

Vitiligo
Vitiligo

When your skin gradually loses its pigmentation and displays patches of white spots, you have vitiligo.

Although vitiligo appears mostly on the face, arms, hands, and legs, it could form anywhere on the body. The skin condition can develop at any age, but the white spots may not appear till age 20.

The patches may start as small round white spots and gradually spread to cover large areas of the body. However, your vitiligo may not spread throughout your body. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if your vitiligo will spread or remain restricted to a small area.

To date, the exact cause of vitiligo is still unknown. However, you may be prone to vitiligo if the skin condition runs in your family.

Despite its appearance, vitiligo isn’t painful, itchy, and doesn’t necessarily have any health impact. However, vitiligo has been liked to some health conditions, including thyroid dysfunction.

Treatment for Vitiligo

While vitiligo can be difficult to cure, there are various treatments that reduce and stop the spread of white spots on your skin.

The type of treatment you use will depend on the severity of your vitiligo. Your doctor may prescribe topical creams, oral medication, or UV light therapy.

In extreme cases, your doctor may suggest skin grafting. This surgical procedure removes skin from one area of your body and transplants it to another part of your body.

Skin grafting will remove the areas affected by vitiligo, and replace the white spots with new healthy skin.

  1. Pityriasis Alba

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Pityriasis Alba is a common skin disorder that affects young adults and children between 6 and 12. PA isn’t usually serious, and most times, it disappears by adulthood.

The symptoms include pink, red scaly patches on the skin. Over time, these red spots may become lighter, and turn to white spots.

Pityriasis Alba is more noticeable in dark-skinned people, but you may notice the white spots after sun tanning.

The exact cause of Pityriasis Alba remains a mystery, but it is thought to be heavily connected with eczema and some allergies.

Treatment for Pityriasis Alba

PA is not contagious and usually doesn’t have major health consequences. In fact, the symptom clears up on its own within the first few months. In extreme cases, PA may last for many years.

PA doesn’t require treatment. The white spots clear up over time. If you have PA, your doctor may recommend a steroid or non-steroid lotion to treat the itching and dryness.

In some cases, the white spots can re-emerge and may require further treatment. To prevent and treat PA, make sure you use skin moisturizers, low-dose topical corticosteroid creams, or Elidel cream.

  1. Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis

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Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis usually affects fair-skinned women, but occasionally, it can arise in men and darker individuals.

The white spots appear on the shins, forearms, face, neck, shoulder, and any other part of the body exposed to the sun.

Although the white patches are smooth, Guttate hypomelanosis can also appear slightly scaly. To date, the exact cause of Guttate hypomelanosis remains unknown.

While a school of thought believes the skin condition may be hereditary since it occurs between family members, another school of thought links the skin condition to the inevitable part of aging, since Guttate hypomelanosis is common in people over 40 years of age.

People with Guttate hypomelanosis have a lower number of pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in their skin. The gradual reductions in melanocytes create white patches and thinner skin. People that are exposed to sunlight frequently are more prone to Guttate Hypomelanosis.

Treatment for guttate hypomelanosis

Luckily, Guttate hypomelanosis doesn’t pose any threat to your health, and the white spots are usually harmless.

To get rid of the white scaly lesions, your doctor may prescribe light cryotherapy, Tretinoin cream, skin grafting, cosmetic camouflage, or microdermabrasion.

In some rare cases, treating white spots may create larger white spots or brown marks. To prevent Guttate hypomelanosis, or improve the appearance of white spots, make sure you protect yourself from sun damage.

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies

You are what you eat! Sometimes, white spots on your skin can be a warning sign that you need to eat a balanced diet.

When your body lacks calcium, vitamin D, vitamin E, and other essential minerals, mysterious white patches may appear on your skin.

Fortunately, white spots caused by malnutrition are usually harmless. If you notice white spots popping up on your skin, your doctor will advise you on which dietary supplements to take.

  1. Sunspots

Sunspots are flat white or brown spots that appear on areas of your skin exposed to the sun. Here, The UV rays from the sun reduce the skin pigment and discolor the skin.

Although anyone can develop sunspots, they are completely harmless. Sunspots are usually small and about 1–3 millimeters (mm) in size.

However, asides discoloring your skin with small white spots, sunspots don’t cause any health problems. The white spots start appearing on the legs and may spread to the arms, back, and face.

If your sunspots have spread to a large area of your body, there are various options to reduce the appearance of the white spots.

Treatment for Sunspots

The best way to treat sunspots is to prevent them. You can protect your skin by wearing sunscreen on sunny days, avoid spending too long in the sun, and covering parts of your body exposed to the sun.

To treat large sunspots, your doctor may prescribe topical steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone.

Topical retinoid creams like retinol and tretinoin are also effective in clearing up sunspots.

Alternatively, in extreme cases, your doctor may suggest dermabrasion, where your skin’s affected area is removed.

Pro tip: Although exposing yourself to too much sunlight may increase your risk of skin cancer, having sunspots is not a symptom of the skin.

  1. Nevus depigmentosus (achromicus)

Nevus depigmentosus are hypopigmented white spots that appear at birth. These spots are usually irregularly shaped. However, they can appear in linear or segmental patterns.

Although Nevus depigmentosus has white spots similar to vitiligo, you can differentiate them because the region this skin condition affects don’t have terminal hairs.

Treatment for Nevus depigmentosus

Most people with white spots don’t opt for treatment. Besides, there’s no way to repigment your skin. If you’re unhappy with your white spots, you could try cosmetic makeup. Your doctor may recommend excision of the affected area.

Should You be Concerned about white Spots on Skin?

Most of the time, white spots on the skin are harmless, and they rarely require treatment.

However, if you notice white spots on your skin, it’s important you talk to your doctor immediately to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

When should You talk to your doctor?

If your white spots itch, cause pain, or spread to other parts of your body, it could signal an underlying health problem. Make sure you talk to your doctor or a dermatologist immediately.

If your white spots aren’t showing any signs of fading after a few weeks of treatment, or worse, if it keeps reappearing after treatment, make sure you visit your doctor.

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