White spots on the skin occur when the production of skin pigment (a.k.a. melanin) is interrupted. This hypopigmentation disorder may be simply cosmetic, or it may be a sign of underlying health issues. In most cases, white spots on the skin are not a cause for concern, and they often clear up on their own within a few weeks. However, you might still want to get the white spots checked by your dermatologist just in case, especially if they persist for more than a couple of weeks.If you already have stubborn white spots that won’t go away, you may be wondering what to do about them even if they are benign. Many people don’t like the appearance of white spots on their skin, especially if the spots are very large or located in a prominent area. In this guide, we will explain common causes of white spots on the skin, how to prevent white spots from forming, and skincare treatment options for white spots on the skin.
Causes of White Spots on the Skin
There are multiple common causes of white spots on the skin, and each skin disorder requires a different treatment. It’s important to visit a dermatology office to get an office diagnosis and go over your treatment options so that you know exactly what you’re dealing with. There are six main causes of white spots on the skin to be familiar with:
1. Sunspots or guttate hypomelanosis
White spots can begin to appear on your skin after years in the sun without adequate protection. These spots — called idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (IGH) — are generally relatively small, between 1-3mm. They aren’t itchy, raised, or painful, but some people find them unsightly, especially if they provide a stark contrast to their natural skin tone. Most treatments are cosmetic and focused on improving the appearance of the spots (more on this in the next section).
2. Tinea versicolor or pityriasis versicolor
Tinea versicolor occurs when a fungus living on the surface of the skin grows out of control. The fungal infection causes dry, itchy, scaly patches that may be either lighter or darker than the surrounding skin. Doctors will typically suggest applying over-the-counter antifungal shampoos, washes, soaps, and creams to the affected areas first. They may later prescribe antifungal pills for a short time if topical treatments have no effect.
3. Pityriasis alba
Pityriasis alba is a skin condition that causes red, scaly, itchy patches that leave behind faint white areas of skin once they heal. The condition is most common in children between the ages of 3-16 and maybe a mild form of atopic dermatitis. Symptoms often resolve on their own, but the healing process can be sped up by the application of moisturizers to soothe dry skin. Your doctor may also recommend the use of topical corticosteroid creams or nonsteroidal elidel cream.
Vitiligo is a skin condition where large white patches of skin appear in areas where melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) have been destroyed. The cause is not known, but it may be an autoimmune disease related to immune system dysfunction. Possible treatments for vitiligo include:
- Steroid creams
- Elidel cream
- Ultraviolet light therapy
- Bleaching darker skin
- Tattooing the white patches
- Surgery to remove the upper portions of the affected skin
Milia are firm, painless sacs filled with white fluid that develop on the surface of the skin. Primary milia occurs when keratin becomes trapped under the skin and forms the sac. Secondary milia develops as the result of skin trauma, such as blistering, sunburn, dermabrasion, and other forms of tissue damage. Retinoid topical creams are usually the first recommended course of treatment, followed by topical steroids.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes itchiness, dry skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters, and skin infections. During an eczema flare-up, the affected patches of skin may appear paler than the rest of the body, especially on darker skin. There are seven different types of eczema to know:
- Atopic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Dyshidrotic eczema
- Nummular eczema
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Stasis dermatitis
Using gentle cleansers instead of harsh soaps and limiting your bath or shower time will help to calm down eczema flare-ups. The skin should be kept moisturized with an unscented lotion. The use of anti-itch creams will help to reduce symptoms and also discourage scratching (which will further inflame the skin). Taking an oral allergy medication such as anti-histamine may also help to reduce the inflammation. If these at-home remedies don’t control your eczema, then your doctor might recommend a topical corticosteroid or another prescription treatment.
Steps for Prevention of White Spots on Skin
Even if you’ve already developed idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis on your skin, protecting your skin from further sun damage is vital. A chic sunhat is a fashionable solution for keeping the sun off your face and shoulders, but it’s no replacement for sunscreen. A sunscreen that prevents further damage while also treating your skin is worth its weight in gold.
Wearing sunscreen with a minimum protection of SPF 30 is essential; in fact, there is relatively no difference in how much sun protection you receive between a sunscreen with SPF 30 and one with a higher SPF. The Sheer Fluid Sun Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen from Lancer Skincare is the ideal sunscreen for protecting your skin while also providing anti-aging benefits.
This weightless broad-spectrum sunscreen protects skin from harmful UV rays and treats it with plant extracts and plant-derived stem cells to improve your skin’s radiance and reduce the appearance of current sun damage. Even better, it works as a primer, allowing your makeup to glide on without the greasy finish of most sunscreens. You should apply sunscreen to all areas of exposed skin, even when sitting indoors, in order to prevent the IHG from getting worse.
Treatments for White Spots on Skin
Now that you know how to guard your skin from additional UV damage, it’s time to treat the appearance of the idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis already present on your skin. Though you can treat brown spots with anti-aging creams and antioxidants, white spots are different. White spots are an absence of pigment, and it’s rarely possible to make the pigment return to your skin.
You may not be able to reverse the loss of pigment in your skin, but you can treat the spots by evening the overall appearance of your skin, which makes spots less evident. Besides professional dermatology treatments, some skincare products for white spots that you can try at home include:
Sunscreen for White Spots
You can also prevent the white spots from expanding by protecting your skin with an anti-aging sunscreen at all times. In addition to keeping your existing white spots from growing and reducing the contrast between the white spots and your regular skin tone, sunscreen prevents further damage to your skin and helps stop additional white spots from developing.
Exfoliation for White Spots
When you look for skincare that will provide you with a brightened, more even-looking skin tone, look for exfoliating products with active ingredients that polish (our way of saying exfoliate since this process should also be gentle on your skin) damaged skin to reveal fresher, younger-looking skin.
A cream with glycolic acid, like Dr. Lancer’s Retexturizing Treatment, can help reduce the appearance of discoloration and give your skin a smoother appearance. The 10% glycolic acid exfoliates skin to reveal glowing, younger-looking skin and a more even skin tone, counteracting the aging effect of sun-damaged skin.
Because glycolic acid is a powerful Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), this treatment also includes antioxidants and humectants to improve your skin’s hydration and lock in necessary moisture to maintain your bright, radiant look. When using an AHA, be extra vigilant about applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and wearing a sunhat, as your skin will be more sensitive to the sun.
Vitamin C for White Spots
Vitamin C is also a popular antioxidant for providing a brightened tone and addressing hyperpigmentation. While Vitamin C won’t eliminate your white spots, it will even out your overall tone and help lessen the darker spots surrounding the white spots, helping them appear less noticeable.
Advanced C Radiance Treatment Cream is a powerful combination of 10% Vitamin C and retinol. Retinol helps exfoliate damaged, discolored skin, while Vitamin C reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation for even skin. The combination of these two ingredients boosts skin cell regeneration and reduces the appearance of sun damage, while rich shea butter soothes skin with luxurious moisture for refreshed, younger-looking skin. White spots will be less conspicuous, and your skin will appear brightened and renewed.
Discover Our Uneven Skin Tone Products
Self-tanner for White Spots
You can also try topical treatments to hide the differentiation in pigment using a self-tanner. If you’d like to try it on your own, you can carefully apply a self-tanner directly to the white spot. Use a small concealer brush or cotton swab to apply the self-tanner to the white spot itself, being meticulous about avoiding the darker skin surrounding it. Give it a chance to develop before deciding if you need another application. Though it may not be an exact match, tanning the affected area may make the spot blend in just enough with the rest of your skin to make it less obvious.
Dermatology Treatments for White Spots
If you’ve used skincare with powerful antioxidants and AHAs for brighter, more even-looking skin, but you still wish to pursue further treatments, there are other options. An experienced dermatologist, like Dr. Harold Lancer, can assess your skin properly and proceed with treatments ideal for your skin.
Since you generally cannot correct the loss of pigment that causes white spots, you must instead treat the skin surrounding the spots. IPL — or Intense Pulsed Light — can be used to target and treat sun-damaged skin. This works by fading the darker skin surrounding the white spots, allowing the spots to blend in better with the rest of your skin.
Another topical treatment is a medication called tacrolimus, an ointment normally used for eczema. This prescription treatment is not to be taken lightly since it’s an immunosuppressant. Still, it was shown to improve the appearance of IGH white spots in 11% of patients in a double-blind study. If you’ve tried other methods and want to pursue this treatment, see your dermatologist.
Regardless of how you choose to treat your white spots, experts agree that sunscreen is the number one choice for preventing IGH and minimizing the appearance and growth of white spots on the skin. Sun damage can have lasting effects, but it is possible to treat and prevent further damage with the right sunscreen and high-quality skincare products.
There are multiple causes of white spots on the skin, including sun spots, tinea versicolor, pityriasis alba, vitiligo, milia, and eczema. Preventive steps, such as wearing sunscreen every day, are key to preventing white spots from forming on the skin. If you already have white spots, you might not be able to restore pigment to those areas, but you can even out your skin tone by using products such as glycolic acid, vitamin C, and self-tanner.