The color of the skin is determined by the amount of melanin that our body produces. Melanin is a pigment that is produced in the outer layer of the skin. Melanocytes are the cells where the melanin is regularly produced in our body.
Skin discoloration is a common problem that affects many people worldwide, both men and women. These skin discolorations may be as white spots, dark spots or other changes of the skin.
White spots on the skin usually occur due to a malfunction of the melanocytes and the lack of production of the melanin for various reasons. Irregular areas on the skin with white areas are a common problem for many people. These white spots may appear anywhere in the body and they may be as small spots, but even as large patches. Some of them are temporary, while others are permanent. Usually these white spots on the skin are not accompanied by other signs and symptoms. However, white spots on the skin can be very stressful, especially in people with darker skin, where these white spots are obviously seen. White spots affect people of all races and all skin colors. They also affect both men and women. However, these white spots occur more often in people who live in humid and hot climates.
You should seek medical help and get checked by a dermatologist in cases when you are having a change in the color of the skin that lasts, if you notice a new mole or a growth on the skin that has recently changes in shape or in size.
What causes white spots on skin?
Discoloration of the skin that is noticed as white spots on the skin can be caused by various reasons, which can be ranged from simple to complex. Some of the most common reasons of white spots on the skin include:
Vitiligo – is the most common cause of white spots on skin. It is a hereditary condition that mostly affects people with dark color. First white spots appear, while with time they grow in size and become white patches. These white patches can develop on many areas of the skin at the same time. Vitiligo is a disease that is characterized by the destruction of melanocytes, which are in charge of the melanin production. It is known that melanin is one that gives color to our skin. The exact mechanism how the melanocytes are destroyed is not known until today. However, there are many theories that try to explain the mechanism of the destruction of melanocytes. The most acceptable is the theory that the immune system destroys its own melanocyte cells. Vitiligo affects both men and women, usually between the first and third decade of life. The white spots are usually first seen on the parts of the skin that are exposed. White spots are also seen in many cases in areas where the skin was damaged. Once these white spots show up, the change is irreversible. Vitiligo itself is a progressive disease, meaning that the areas of white spots on the skin will spread and periods of rapid progression of the disease are followed by a period of stability. Sometimes, the disease is extensive and the whole body is affected. Treatment usually requires the use of topical corticosteroids and immunomodulators. Cosmetic creams and sun creams also help improve the appearance of the skin.
Malnutrition – the lack of certain vitamins like vitamin D, E and other very important nutrients like calcium can cause discoloration of the skin.
Hypopigmentation – is the loss of the color of the skin. Hypopigmentation occurs in cases when the melanocytes are depleted and they do not produce the necessary amount of melanin.
Nevus depigmentosus – in these cases the skin is not totally achromatic and the white spots are permanent and they do not change over the time. Nevus depigmentosus is a condition that has no treatment.
Pityriasis Alba – is a skin disease that affects children and adolescents. Dry, scale and white patches appear on the skin, usually on the face. The white patches are more common in the summer, while in winter they become dry and scaly. The cause of these white spots is unknown. However, these changes on the skin will eventually return to its normal color without treatment.
Tinea Versicolor – is a fungal infection of the skin. Tinea versicolor is caused, by fungi named Malassezia, which normally exists in everybody’s skin. However, some certain conditions cause the overgrowth of this type of fungi, causing the development of white and red to brown spots on the skin. The disease is not contagious and these changes in the color of the skin are mostly seen in upper arms, thighs, neck and even abdomen. Excessive sweating, pregnancy, malnutrition or having an oily skin increase the risk of suffering from Tinea Versicolor. Medications with corticosteroids for a long period of time also increase the risk of suffering from Tinea Versicolor. Treatment in these cases requires antifungal medications. Lotions that contain selenium sulfide, pytithione zinc and ketoconazole are also very effective. These lotions are usually applied before bedtime.
Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis – the reason of this skin disease is unknown. White spots are usually flat, with a diameter about two to five millimeters. Sometimes these white spots can even become scaly. The disease is more common among women, however anyone can be affected. Idopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis mostly affects women over the age of 40, considering that it is associated with natural aging of the human body. These changes on the skin seem to affect more than one family member, so genetic factors also seem to play a role. The white spots are more often seen in parts of the body that are exposed to the sun like the face, neck, forearms and shoulders.
Morphea – is a rare disease of the skin which causes discolored patches on the skin, which are painless. The real cause of morphea is unknown. It may be caused by an unusual reaction of the immune system. Morphea is often triggered by a repeated trauma on that part of the skin, radiation therapy or a recent infection. The condition is more common among women than men and it can affect people at any age. The skin firstly gets thicker and hard. Over the time the patches from red or purple that are in the beginning change the color to yellowish, brown until they are completely white.
Skin Damage – due to burns, laser hair removal and various other medical conditions can lead to the appearance of white spots on the skin. These white spots are usually permanent.
Tanning Salons – It might sound ridiculous, but yes, it is true. Spending too much time on tanning salons may damage the skin and change its color. White spots in this case result from an exposition to the harsh rays of these tanning machines.
Many changes of the skin are harmless. However, some of them may be dangerous and require proper diagnosis and treatment. You should visit your dermatologist in cases when you notice a change in the color of your skin. In many with proper treatment these changes will go away or the progression of the disease will be temporarily or permanently stopped.