Skin discoloration, in the form of white spots can occur just about anywhere on the body, such as the upper back, forearms, neck, shoulders, shins, and face.
The loss of skin color is called hypopigmentation. This condition occurs when melanin, or melanocyte cells in the skin are depleted, or amino acid tyrosine decreases. This causes reduction in the production of melanin. Thus, one begins to observe white patches on skin due to depletion of melanin cells.
Although these spots may not be accompanied by itching or irritation, but they can be quite conspicuous on dark or tanned skin. It is essential to identify the underlying cause of such spots and seek medical help for proper treatment.
Causes and Treatment of White Spots
White spots on skin can affect people of all skin colors and types. It is common in people living in hot and humid climate. These spots can vary in size from tiny white dots to large white marks. Some turn into brown spots covered by white scaly skin. Let us have a look at what causes white spots on the body.
Also called pityriasis versicolor, this is a fairly common, benign or non-cancerous skin condition that is caused by Malassezia, a kind of yeast that normally occurs on the skin. In certain conditions, such as when the skin becomes moist, oily, and warm, the yeast can overgrow, and thereby cause white spots or patches, which can also be reddish-brown in color. These usually occur in the upper arms, abdomen, neck, and thighs. Even though it is an infection, tinea versicolor occurs normally on the skin, and it is not contagious.
Risk Factors: Some of the conditions that make the occurrence of tinea versicolor more likely are; humid and warm climate, oily skin, excessive sweating, malnourishment, pregnancy, medications like corticosteroids, or anything that weakens the immune system.
Treatment: It can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications like terbinafine, miconazole and clotrimazole. There is also a shampoo that is available over-the-counter which contains selenium sulfide. It can be applied like a lotion on the affected areas before going to bed, and rinsed off the next morning. However, if the condition persists for over two weeks after daily treatment, it is best to consult a dermatologist.
Vitiligo affects about 1 to 2 percent of people all over the world. It generally shows up as white spots or patches on skin. Due to destruction of melanocytes cells, there is loss of pigment in the skin, which causes these white spots or patches. These spots can be commonly found on sun-exposed areas of the skin, like arms, face, limbs and lips.
Risk Factors: It is still not known what exactly causes vitiligo. However, it seems to occur more commonly in people with certain kinds of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's disease, pernicious anemia, alopecia areata and adrenal insufficiency. Any kind of stress that affects the immune system may also lead to vitiligo. Sometimes, a mild trauma to some part of the skin may lead to loss of skin pigment. Vitiligo is also found to run in families, so there may be a hereditary factor too.
Treatment: There are various methods of treating vitiligo such as steroid creams, photo therapy, skin grafting (especially at the early stages), psoralen photochemotherapy (PUVA), depigmentation treatment, immunomodulator creams used with narrowband UVB treatment and laser treatment.
Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis
This causes flat white spots, measuring about 2-5 mm in diameter. As the cause of this condition is unknown, it is called 'idiopathic'. 'Guttate' refers to the fact that the spots resemble teardrops, and 'hypomelanosis' means the lighter color of the areas that are affected. Although it usually occurs on the shins and the areas of the forearms that are exposed to the sun, it can also appear on the shoulders, neck, and face. The white spots are generally smooth, although sometimes they can even be scaly.
People at Risk: This condition seem to be associated with the natural process of aging, usually occurring in people above the age of 40. Women are more prone to idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis than men. It mostly affects fair-skinned people, although it is sometimes seen to affect darker skin too. It is believed that hereditary factors may be involved, since it seems to occur in families. Over-exposure to sun at an early age can also contribute towards this condition.
Treatment: Topical steroids are commonly prescribed to treat this skin condition. Light microdermabrasion is also found to be helpful. Some dermatologist also recommend cryotherapy to treat white spots and patches caused due to idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis.
Pityriasis alba is a common skin condition that affects children, adolescents and teenagers. This condition causes dry, scaly patches on the face. The exact cause for this condition is still not known. These white patches on skin are more noticeable during summer due to tanning of surrounding skin. In winter, these patches turn dry and appear scaly. This condition causes raised red spots, that are often mild in appearance. These spots then turn raised and pale and finally become smooth flat, pale patches. Apart from face, these patches can also occur on the upper arms, neck and shoulders.
People at Risk: It affects mainly young children, and is more common in males.
Treatment: Usually no treatment is required, as pityriasis alba is self-limiting. Topical steroids are sometimes prescribed to reduce inflammation.
This condition causes depigmentation of the skin and it is usually present from birth. It is a non-progressive hypopigmented disorder. These spots are irregular in pattern and they generally appear on limbs, back and chest.
People at Risk: This condition mostly affects young children and teenagers.
Treatment: Treatment option includes laser therapy and PUVA (psoralen and ultraviolet A therapy).
White spots on skin can also occur due to malnutrition, lack of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin E, etc. If you observe brown or white spots on skin that do not disappear in a few weeks, it would be best to consult a dermatologist.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.