Leopard, cheetah, Dalmatian — spots have been all the rage in fashion at one point or another. But spots on your skin? That sort of depends on the type.
When white spots pop up on our bodies, it may set off warning bells. But fear not; in most cases, white spots on your skin are no cause for alarm.
While these discolorations are often harmless and can be treated at home, it’s still in your best interest to see a dermatologist. They can help determine the cause of your white spots and the best course of treatment for you.
Here are some possible causes of sun spots.
Sunlight makes life possible, but it can have an unexpected effect on your skin. Guttate hypomelanosis, or small white spots better known as sunspots, occur after excessive sun exposure.
Sunspots can also appear from extended tanning bed use.
Sunspots are benign and painless, often ranging from 1–10 mm in size. While more common on those with light skin and people over 40, sunspots can appear on anyone.
Sunspots are harmless and will not impact your health. However, if you notice the following changes, it’s best to consult a doctor:
- spots get darker
- spots change in size, shape, or color
- spots become itchy or painful
The best ways to prevent sunspots are:
- avoid excessive sun exposure
- use sunscreen regularly
- wear clothing that covers your skin
Are sunspots a sign of skin cancer?
Unprotected exposure to the sun can contribute to skin cancer. However, sunspots themselves do not suggest skin cancer. If you become concerned by changes in your sunspots, visit your doctor.
Yeast, a fungus known for its ability to make bread rise, is also one of many microscopic organisms living on your skin and supporting your body’s cellular growth.
Before you get grossed out by thoughts that your skin is basically a baguette, know that it’s a different kind of yeast. When the yeast normally found on your skin begins overgrowing, it leads to tinea versicolor.
Tinea versicolor shows up as white spots on your skin. It may also sometimes appear pink, red, or brown, and may get larger over time. Symptoms include itching, dry skin, and scaling.
Those living in tropical climates are more susceptible to tinea versicolor, but it can affect anyone.
Several factors may lead to tinea versicolor:
- excessive sweating
- humid weather
- a weakened immune system
- oily skin
A variety of treatments are available for tinea versicolor, based on the severity of the infection. Over-the-counter (OTC) options include medication-strength cleansers or antifungal creams, soaps, lotions, and shampoos containing:
- selenium sulfide
If the infection is more severe, a doctor can prescribe a prescription-strength topical cream, shampoo, or pills.
While tinea versicolor is treatable, skin may remain discolored for an extended time. You’re also more likely to get tinea versicolor again if you’ve had it in the past. To prevent recurring infections:
- use medicated cleansers during hot or humid times of year
- avoid excessive heat
- limit or avoid sun exposure
- avoid excessive sweating
Pityriasis alba, or PA, is a skin disorder commonly affecting children between the ages of 6 and 12. It generally disappears by adulthood.
PA appears as red, scaly patches that become lighter in color over time. The cause of PA is unknown, but it’s thought to be linked to eczema in those with atopic dermatitis.
It’s more obvious appearing in those who have developed a tan from the sun or are darker in skin color.
PA is not contagious and sometimes clears up on its own. A doctor may also prescribe topical steroids or non-steroidal creams to treat symptoms.
There’s no way to prevent PA, but you can lessen its symptoms by practicing a skin care routine that includes:
- taking warm or lukewarm baths or showers rather than hot ones
- protecting yourself from sun exposure
- using cream-based moisturizers (such as CeraVe) throughout the day
- avoiding scented products
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that is due to the loss of melanocytes — the pigment producing cells — and leaves white patches on the skin.
These patches can appear anywhere on the body and vary in size. This disorder can affect anyone — even Michael Jackson.
What causes vitiligo is still unknown, but researchers believe it’s an autoimmune disorder, since the body is attacking its own cells. Those with other autoimmune disorders are also at a higher risk of developing vitiligo.
Vitiligo may be triggered after:
- getting a severe sunburn or cut
- experiencing high levels of stress
There’s no cure for vitiligo, and the simplest option for the condition is to do nothing at all! Supermodel Winnie Harlow proves that white spots are always in.
Vitiligo-concealing makeup tutorials are also an option if you prefer.
Some other treatments to discuss with a doctor include:
- medicated creams
- medications that impact the immune system
- light therapy
- surgical procedures
- OTC supplements like folic acid, Vitamin C, or Vitamin B-12 (when combined with light therapy)
Milia are small, white cysts that are generally found on the face around the eye area, nose, and cheeks. They are most common in newborn babies but can appear at any age.
Milia are generally white or yellow in color, often painless, and not considered harmful. For some people, however, they do cause discomfort.
Milia is categorized as either primary or secondary.
Primary milia appear at random when keratin becomes trapped under the skin. Secondary milia are the result of skin damage, an injury to the skin, or certain medications or products.
Milia can appear spontaneously or as a result of:
- sun damage
- long-term steroid usage
- skin resurfacing treatments
In rare cases, people develop milia surrounded by raised skin that is red, scaly, and itchy. This is known as “milia en plaque.” The cause of milia en plaque is unknown and can appear randomly in healthy skin.
It’s thought that milia en plaque may be a sign of discoid lupus erythematosus, or DLE, an autoimmune disorder that can cause sores and scarring on the face, scalp, and ear areas.
Milia en plaque can affect people of any age but is most often found in middle-aged females.
In some cases, milia will disappear within a few weeks to a few months. If not, the following treatments may help:
- Cryotherapy. This uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the milia for removal.
- Deroofing. A process where a sterile needle removes the contents of the cyst.
- Topical retinoids. To help exfoliate the skin.
- Laser removal. Also known as “laser ablation.”
- Destruction curettage. A surgical removal method.
While milia can occur spontaneously, there are preventative measures you can take:
- Use oil-free soaps to cleanse your skin.
- Moisturize your face and areas prone to milia.
- Use a facial serum with vitamin E or vitamin A.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic disease that can appear anywhere on the body as itchy, scaly rashes. Common symptoms include itchy, dry, rough, flakey, inflamed, and irritated skin.
While more common in babies and small children, eczema can affect anyone of almost any age.
The main risk factors for eczema include:
- family history of eczema
- hay fever
- heavy creams or ointments (such as Vaseline)
- avoiding harsh soaps, detergents, and certain fabrics
- taking warm or lukewarm baths or showers rather than hot ones
- making lifestyle changes to reduce stress
- light therapy (NBUVB)
There is also Dupixent, an injectable, which is an FDA approved medication for atopic dermatitis, for teens aged 12 to 17 years.
A doctor can prescribe topical corticosteroids to lessen your symptoms. Be aware, using any type of steroid can have negative side effects, such as thinning skin, irritation, or discoloration.
However, when used as directed and under the guidance of a dermatologist, side effects are less likely.
- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!
- Take shorter showers/baths with warm or lukewarm water.
- Always pat dry your skin with a soft towel after bathing.
- Reduce exposure to triggers such as stress, sweat, allergens, and certain soaps/detergents.
Lichen sclerosus is an uncommon condition that causes thin, patchy white spots on the skin in both males and females. It often appears in the genital areas.
The cause is unknown, but researchers think it may be related to an overactive immune system or hormonal imbalance.
Symptoms can vary. Some patients show no additional symptoms. Others may experience severe itching, difficulty urinating, painful sex, or skin that bruises, tears, or bleeds easily.
While lichen sclerosus can appear on anyone of any age, risk for the condition is higher for:
- post-menopausal females
- prepubescent females
- uncircumcised males
- topical steroids or creams
- ultraviolet light treatments
- removal of the foreskin
Some home remedies to consider for symptoms include:
- applying lubricant
- avoiding harsh soaps
- using oatmeal soaks or sitz baths
- applying a cool compress
- taking oral antihistamines
Lichen sclerosus is not contagious and there’s no known cause. Symptoms can be eased but are not preventable.
White spots are generally harmless and not a cause for concern. In most cases, they will disappear on their own or they can be treated with simple at-home treatments or a prescription from your doctor.
It’s always a good idea to consult your dermatologist to rule out any possible underlying conditions.
If you notice any of the following, please see your doctor as soon as possible:
- changes in your spots (size, shape, color)
- spots become painful
- itching caused by spots becomes severe or unbearable