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What do White Spots on the Skin Mean?

Tanning beds can cause white spots on the skin.
Although it is less common, white spots on the skin can be a sign of vitiligo.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 July 2014
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There are many things that cause white spots on the skin. Often, they indicate mean a fungal infection, such as Tinea versicolor, a non-contagious disease caused by a type of yeast. Sometimes, people with this condition develop red or brown spots instead of white spots; though unsightly, they don't cause any physical harm.

When white spots mean a fungal infection, they can usually be treated fairly easily. Many people use over-the-counter anti-fungal treatments to clear them up, and generally, such medications work over a two-week period. Sometimes people have white spots over a large area of their bodies. When this occurs, they may use a shampoo that contains anti-fungal medicine to help clear the spots faster and prevent their return.

Sometimes people develop white spots on the skin after visiting tanning salons on a regular basis. In such cases, the spots can mean either a fungus or a change in the skin due to exposure in the tanning bed. In some cases, white spots mean that a prescription medication has interfered with the normal functioning of the skin. For example, certain types of medications, such as some oral medicines for acne, cause sensitivity to light. When a person is taking such medication and is exposed to sunlight for a significant amount of time, he or she may develop white spots or unevenly tanned skin.

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In some cases, white spots indicate a skin disorder. For example, the skin disorder called pityriasis alba is known to produce white patches on the skin. These patches, which are often round or oval in shape and may be flaky, typically show up on the face and upper part of the body, including the torso. This particular type of skin infection is most commonly found in children and adolescents, and it is also more common among those with darker skin. Pityriasis alba can be treated with prescription medication.

Less commonly, white spots on the skin are a sign of vitiligo, which is a condition that involves the loss of melanin. This loss leads to white spots and patches that spread and may eventually cover a large part of a person's body. The condition is often inherited, and it is typically more noticeable in those with darker skin. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the condition, but there are treatments that may help to slow down the spread of the white spots and patches.

There are some cases in which white spots on the skin indicate damage to the skin cells. For example, some burns may lead to white spots, as can the effects of some laser treatments, such as those intended for removing hair and treating the scars from acne. To avoid this type of skin damage, people should seek such treatments only from licensed practitioners or those who have received an adequate level of training. Some people seek recommendations from their dermatologists or other medical profesionals.

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Discuss this Article

anon357311
Post 15

I have small circular white spots on my arm and my back, but when I get out of the shower, the spots become red and irritated and sometimes are itchy. I'm not sure what the spots are. My back is covered and I notice the spots spreading on my arms and back. Anyone know what I have or what it is?

anon327061
Post 13

I have some very pale circular discoloration on my forearm. It hurts sometimes. My doctor thought the pain was muscular. I've noticed lately that the discoloration is there because it is different than the coloring of my other arm. It's very very slightly visible. And there's some pain. Any suggestions, anybody?

anon325448
Post 12

I am suffering from Leukoderma which is hereditary. Is there any type of precaution or medication I can take so it cannot transferred to our next generation?

lighth0se33
Post 11

@Perdido – Just be glad that you don't develop white spots for seemingly no reason. I knew a man who had vitiligo, and it started out with large white spots on his face.

He had no idea what was happening. He was African-American, so the white spots were very noticeable.

Before long, he had large white blotches all over his body. He was embarrassed to go out in public, and he became a hermit.

Kristee
Post 10

If you have naturally fair skin and then you start tanning, you can wind up with tiny white spots on your skin. This happened to me when I started using a self-tanner.

I have always been pale, so getting a natural suntan isn't an option. I burn instead, and because of my fair complexion, I am prone to skin cancer.

So, I used a sunless tanning lotion. I didn't notice any spots after the first treatment, but the more times that you apply the stuff, the darker you get.

After my third application, I saw very apparent white spots on my upper arm. They were only in one small area. I have no idea why I didn't get them all over my body, but I guess that something about the pigmentation in that area made some spots unable to take on color.

Perdido
Post 9

The only white spots I've ever had on my skin were easily explained. For example, I have two deep scars on my legs, and the skin there just will not tan, so if I get a nice golden hue on the rest of my skin, those scars will always remain white.

Also, while I was sunbathing at the lake once, my niece discreetly placed a few stickers on my stomach while I was napping. I woke up and peeled them off to reveal white spots amidst a pink sunburn!

anon284427
Post 8

Okay so I am taking a Medicine that I got from a doctor for my acne and I just noticed today that I have this white spot on my arm but its not flaky like a sunburn. I'm Hispanic so I don't wear sunscreen because I don't get sunburned, I get tan. So when I saw this spot, I looked it up on google and I'm wondering is there a way to get rid of this?

anon267925
Post 6

I don't know if this is some what the same but I have had this white spot on my leg since I was little and I don't know what it is or what I can do to make it go away. It's not that big, though.

anon226715
Post 5

Great points you have shared. I am interested in finding relevant information about beauty products and conditions like acne and white spots on skin and this is a good one to consider.

pharmchick78
Post 4

@lightning88 -- It sounds like your sister may have tinea versicolor, yeast-based skin fungus that can cause white spots.

The best thing for your sister to do it to try to avoid humidity, and to try to keep from sweating a lot.

Tinea versicolor can also show up in those who have weakened immune systems, so you may advise your sister to have a check-up, just to be on the safe side.

lightning88
Post 3

What are some ways to avoid fungal infections that leave white spots on the skin?

My sister regularly has outbreaks of small white spots on her skin, but we can't figure out why -- they look fungal though.

How can she avoid getting these fungal infections?

EarlyForest
Post 2

Those who have experienced long-term eczema may also experience white spots on the skin if they are out in the sun a lot.

Even as the rest of their skin tans, they still have small white spots on the skin where their eczema outbreaks were.

Of course, getting a tan from being out in the sun only makes them more noticeable.

There are some creams to cover the spots, but as of yet there is no way to get rid of them all together.

SauteePan
Post 1

I just want to add that I have some tiny white spots on my arms due to sun exposure. I was told that the best treatment is to stay out of the sun and not allow the skin to develop prolonged moisture such as sweat.

I was thinking of getting a rash guard top that has an SPF of at least 50. These tops are usually long sleeves so they would completely cover my arms.

This way I can enjoy the outdoors and stay safe at the same time.

Both of my kids wear the rash guard swimsuits when they play in the pool or when they are outside for a prolonged period of time. They don’t have the problem with the white spots on the skin like I do.

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