White Patches On Face

If you are suffering from white patches on the skin, keep reading to find out the possible causes and treatments available.

Should I be worried about white patches on the face?

Skin discolorations are quite common, especially on the face. Some people develop dark age spots and others may develop red acne patches. However, white patches on your skin may seem more uncommon. Sometimes you can notice white patches or spots across your cheeks or other places on your face. These spots could cover a large surface area and perhaps even extend to other areas of your body.

Possible causes and conditions of white patches on skin

A number of conditions can cause white spots to form on your face, and they generally aren’t too much cause for concern. Below we consider the most common causes and how to deal with them.

1. Milia

This condition develops when keratin gets trapped underneath the skin. Keratin is a type of protein that makes up the outer layer of your skin. This results in the formation of tiny cysts on the skin which are white in color. Milia most often occurs in adults and children, but it's also possible in newborn babies.

When the white patches are caused by entrapped keratin, it’s known as primary milia. Although, these small white cysts can also form on the skin as the result of sun damage, a burn or poison ivy. Cysts can also develop after using a topical steroid cream or using a skin resurfacing procedure.

Milia can develop on a variety of areas of the face including the nose, cheeks, forehead and around the eyes. Some people can also form white patches around their mouth. These white bumps aren’t typically itchy or painful and the condition tends to resolve itself without treatment within a couple of weeks.

If your condition does not start improving within a couple of months, your doctor may recommend microdermabrasion, an acid peel or prescribe a topical retinoid cream to repair damaged skin. In some cases, your doctor can extract the bumps using a specialised tool.

2. Pityriasis alba

Pityriasis alba is a form of eczema that causes an oval patch of flaky, discolored white patches on the skin to appear. This condition affects around 5% of children across the globe. It's particularly prominent in those aged three to 16.

The exact cause of this condition is not currently known. It’s usually seen in the setting of atopic dermatitis. It may be linked to a yeast that causes hypopigmentation or due to sun exposure.

This condition often clears on its own within a couple of months, although discoloration can last up to three years in some cases.
If you recognize these symptoms, then you should apply moisturizer on any dry spots and make use of an over-the-counter topical steroid such as hydrocortisone to relieve any redness or itchiness.

3. Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a skin disorder which is caused due to a loss of pigmentation. These patches of white patches of skin can are located on various parts of the body. This includes your:

  • face
  • arms
  • hands
  • legs
  • feet
  • genitals

These patches may initially be small in size and gradually increase until white patches cover a large percentage of your body. This condition can occur at any age, however, most people don’t show symptoms of the disease until they reach their 20s. Your risk of this condition increases if you have a family history of the condition.

The various treatment options will largely depend on the severity of the condition. Your doctor may recommend ultraviolet light therapy, topical creams or oral medication to help stop the spread of white patches and restore skin color.

In some cases, skin grafts are also an effective option for removing small patches of white skin on the body. To do this, your doctor will remove the skin from one area of your body and attach it to another area of your body.

4. Tinea versicolor

Tinea versicolor is a skin disorder which is a result of an overgrowth of yeast. This is a common type of fungus on the skin. This condition can cause white spots which appear dry or scaly and vary in color.

Some people with this condition develop red, pink or brown spots, instead of white spots. If your skin is lighter, you may not notice the white spots until your skin tans.

This skin condition can occur in people of all ages, but it tends to affect those who live in humid climates, including those who tend to have oily skin or a weakened or compromised immune system.

Treatment includes antifungal medications because tinea vesicular is caused by an overgrowth of yeast. You should speak with your doctor about over-the-counter or prescription antifungal products. This includes soaps, shampoos and creams. If you apply as directed, the white patches should clear over time.

In some cases, your doctor can also prescribe an oral antifungal medication, such as fluconazole, to stop and prevent the overgrowth of yeast. White patches tend to disappear once the fungus is under control. It can, however, take months or weeks for your skin to return to its normal color. If you do not consistently treat this condition, it can reoccur.

5. Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis

Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis are also known as sunspots. These are white patches that form on the skin and face, as a result of UV exposure over a long-term period. The size and number of white spots will vary, but they tend to be between three and five millimeters and are flat and round.

These spots can develop on different areas of the body including your:

  • Arms
  • Face
  • Back
  • Legs

This condition is more common in those with fairer skin, and your risk for sunspots increases as you age. You often find women develop the spots earlier than men. Since these white spots are due to extended UV exposure, it's important you should use sun cream to prevent this condition from worsening. This can help prevent new ones from forming.

Various treatments can restore color and reduce the appearance of white patches. Options include retinoids to stimulate hyperpigmentation and cell growth and steroids to reduce any skin inflammation.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, white spots on the skin are nothing to worry about. However, it's still important to see a dermatologist or doctor for a proper diagnosis, especially if your white patches spread to other areas of your body, or they don't respond to home treatments. With early intervention, your doctor can recommend products to possibly restore pigmentation.

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Last Reviewed:
June 23, 2018
Last Updated:
June 24, 2018