The skin health of a person reveals hydration, blood circulation, and more importantly, his/her overall health. While color tone of the skin largely depends on the amount of melanin secreted by the melanocytes present in the epidermis, the extent of fairness or darkness is determined by the genetic component and level of exposure to environmental factors. Any deviation or abnormal change in the natural skin color is referred to as skin discoloration.
While referring to various types of skin discoloration, white spots on the skin are found to be the most commonly reported case. While this skin disorder is not so serious, it can be quite distressing, particularly when present in clearly visible areas. Most cases of this skin condition improve with time, but some are long-term and irreversible. Understanding the probable causes of white skin spots will help in addressing them correctly.
What Causes White Spots on the Skin?
White spots or dark spots, it has something to do with the melanin pigment of the skin. In case of white spots on the face or any other region, the melanocytes in the area are not producing sufficient melanin pigment; while in case of hyperpigmentation or dark spots, there is an increased production of this pigment. Thus, a balanced secretion of melanin pigment is crucial for maintaining uniform skin color all over the body.
Speaking about the causes of white skin discoloration, it may be because of genetic disorder, autoimmune disease, side effect of steroids (or other strong medication), and post inflammatory responses. Refer to albinism and you will find that this genetic disease causes white patches on the skin. Also, lighter or white colored spots on skin are observed after the body recovers from inflammation, like psoriasis and leprosy. Medical conditions that may cause white spots and patches on skin include the following.
Vitiligo may be the cause for development of white skin spots after sunlight exposure. According to medical data, approximately 2 million people in the United states have some degree of this skin disorder. In patients with vitiligo disease, the body generates antibodies that counteract and destroy melanocytes. Thus, vitiligo is an exclusive example of autoimmune disease that cause white spots.
The main cause of skin discoloration, white spots in children and teenagers, is pityriasis alba. Those people afflicted by this skin problem manifest white patches of skin on the face, neck, trunk, hands, and legs. The skin spots are even to the surrounding skin layer, but its texture is rough with delicate scales. Symptoms are usually aggravated during winter months when the skin becomes dry. Pityriasis alba is non-contagious and it is exhibited as eczema or a type of atopic dermatitis.
Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis
It is a harmless case of depigmentation, in which the white skin patches are flat and small in size (ranging from 2 - 5 mm). The exact cause of this skin condition is not known, hence the term idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is given. While some people take it as a genetic disorder, others consider it as an acquired case. Most likely, the root cause is related to sunlight exposure. The forearms and shins are commonly affected, but the skin symptoms may appear in other body parts as well.
A type of fungal infection, tinea versicolor affects the superficial layers of skin. The causal organisms are Malassezia globosa and M. furfur, which occur in healthy skin too. Under moist or increased oily condition, these organisms multiply rapidly, resulting in infection. Symptoms of tinea versicolor are delicate scales, itching, and white spots on the skin, especially in the arms, face, neck, chest, trunk, and back. Treatment is done with topical ointments and oral medications.
Another case of depigmentation that results in white skin spots is nevus depigmentosus. Over here, the hypopigmented skin spots are frequently observed in the buttocks and back areas. While symptoms are nonprogressive, size of the white skin patches may increase proportionally to the body growth. Many people are born with this skin condition, hence it is thought to be a genetic case. Though nevus depigmentosus is called localized albinism at times, both are different from each other.
How to Treat White Spots on the Skin Effectively
Except for the external appearance, most cases of white skin spots are harmless and improve with proper skin care tips. So, the decision for treating or not treating this condition is up to the individual who has it. The therapeutic intervention for white spots on the skin is attributed to resorting the normal function of the melanocytes in the affected skin areas. In some cases, the affected melanocytes become active after exposing to sunlight and artificial phototherapy. However, make sure to use protective skin creams before exposing to sunlight.
Coming to white skin discoloration (or white spots) treatment, the therapeutic approach varies from one person to another, based on the disease etiology and severity. For example, pityriasis alba goes away on its own within 2 - 3 years. However, applying topical hydrocortisone aids in restoring the normal skin color (to some extent) and quicken recovery time. On the other hand, tinea versicolor is treated with the help of antifungal medications to get rid of skin fungus and white spots. Such antifungal agents are available in the form of skin creams and oral tablets. For safety concerns, self medication for skin discoloration is not recommended and treatment should be done under the supervision of a dermatologist.