White Patches of Skin

Dr. Greene, I was giving my nephew a bath the other night and noticed white patches on his upper arms. Is this normal? Are they a sign of malnutrition? They never feed him any greens or fruits — just cereal and chicken nuggets. We are worried about these spots. He is turning 3 years old, and we fear he is not growing up healthy.
Amy W. – Maryville, Tennessee

White Patches of Skin

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Every year as the final weeks of summer come to a close, I am asked by parents on the phone, in the office, and online about white patches of skin that their children have developed. It’s almost a Labor Day tradition.

Fun in the sun often brings out these white spots — especially noticeable at the end of the summer. While a healthy, balanced diet of whole foods is very beneficial, diet is probably not responsible for your nephew’s white patches of skin. Many different conditions can produce new white patches of skin in children; I will highlight two of the most common.

White Patches of Skin: Pityriasis Alba

Doctors call one of these conditions pityriasis alba, which is Latin for white, scaly patches. Children with this extremely common condition develop uneven, round or oval patches after sun exposure. The patches are dry with very fine scales. Varying from 1 to 2 inches in diameter, they are most common on the face (cheeks), neck, upper trunk, and upper arms of children 3 to 16 years old.

These are completely benign, similar to a mild form of eczema. They are most common in children with dry skin.

Treatment of Pityriasis Alba

The involved patches don’t darken with sun exposure the way the surrounding skin does. Treatment involves daily lubrication with a good moisturizer (such as Aquaphor), especially whenever the skin gets wet.

Using sunscreen can decrease the appearance of the patches by inhibiting the skin around them from darkening. Sometimes topical steroid creams help. Even with no treatment at all, the spots will disappear on their own — although it may take months to years. Some people get pityriasis alba every summer during childhood. Even then, the pigmentation will eventually end up normal.

White Patches of Skin: Tinea Versicolor

The other extremely common white-patch condition is called tinea versicolor. This is a mild, superficial fungal infection, somewhat similar to ringworm (true ringworm can also result in white patches). Since the affected skin doesn’t change color well with sun exposure, it usually becomes apparent as white patches during the summer months. In the winter it may seem to disappear, or even seem to become slightly darkened patches as the surrounding skin gets paler (this is where the name versicolor comes from).

Tinea versicolor - close-up

Tinea versicolor is most common in adolescents and young adults 15 to 30 years old (although it can certainly happen at any age). The infection is chronic and recurs easily, but it causes no other health problems. People are most susceptible to the fungus during hot months in humid areas. Taking steroids, excessive sweating, wearing tight-fitting clothing, and chronic illness can all predispose a person to tinea versicolor, but someone without any of these factors can still get this mild infection.

The patches of tinea versicolor can appear white, tan, or pink. The white patches look very similar to pityriasis alba. There are two good ways to tell them apart.

The most reliable way is to have a doctor gently scrape the white patch, dissolve the scrapings in potassium hydroxide, and look at what is left under a microscope. The classic “spaghetti-and-meatball” appearance of budding yeast confirms the diagnosis of tinea versicolor. A quicker and easier approach is to look at the patches under a black light. The patches of tinea versicolor will usually light up with a blue-white, yellow, or orange color.

Treatment of Tinea Versicolor

Topical antifungal medicines are very effective for treating tinea versicolor, but there is a more convenient, less expensive, highly effective alternative.

Selenium shampoos are great at getting rid of the fungus. Simply apply a thin layer over the affected skin before bed (with a wide surrounding margin, since it may already be beginning to spread). Wash thoroughly the next morning.

The problem is that no matter what the treatment, it comes back easily. Whatever treatment is used for tinea versicolor, all bedding and nightclothes should be changed after treatment to prevent recurrence. Also, re-treating once a week for 3-4 weeks and then once a month for 3-4 months makes it much less likely to come back.

With either pityriasis alba or tinea versicolor, even when the condition is effectively treated, the white patches of skin will remain for a while. At least several weeks must pass for the newly healthy skin to adjust its color to the amount of ongoing sunlight exposure, so that it will match the surrounding skin.

At your nephew’s upcoming three-year-old well child exam, it would be wise for his parents to ask the doctor about the white patches of skin (just to be sure that it isn’t one of the other more unusual causes). But in the meantime, relax. Both of these mild, benign, primarily cosmetic conditions are so common, Amy, that “got some white patches” could show up on many “What I did this summer” essays.

Did you find this article helpful? Need more information? Let us know in the comments below.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Genesis

    So I recently got this small white spot under my check around my jawline and I’m very worried it’s just smooth but a bit itchy but not soooo itchy and I wanted to know if it’ll go away on its own I never had this. I just turned 15 and I really want it to go away I’ve had it since the 2nd week of August

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  2. Boy

    Doctor i notice that my face have a white spot and it is so itching and it begin to spread but the colour is not so much white almost same as the normal skin and the hair growing within the white spot is also not white And doctor in the earlier time i show prescribe me to use miconazole nitrate gel and it cure me but this time i dont go to the doctor and use it but it does not work what shell i do doctor plese help me as soon as possible.

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  3. Kaveeta Khatri

    Hello Doctor
    I am 22 years old. From few months I am noticing white spots around my neck and also on back. I shared this problem to a dermatologist, and he said its just because of hot weather, but these spots are increasing after using the Conaz lotion suggested by the doctor, but after using this lotion these spots are increasing. Doctor suggested me to use it 3 times in week. I did that, but the result is not what I wanted. Even after using the lotion itching starts on my back. I am very much worried about it doctor please help me out.

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  4. M.A.

    Found the white patches on skin in children, a useful article.

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  5. sasha.

    Wht abt the one ringworm patches. , wht will I use. To clear it cos it making me so. Ugly on my. Face and my bottom.. Am so shyn

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  6. Ashley

    After reading this article, I wanted to add one more cause of white spots on the skin. It is by no means common, but it is, I think, important to mention. My son has a disease called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. His first symptom was a two inch long white patch on his leg. As he got older, he developed several more, plus tiny ones all over. We were told it was vitiligo when he was two. At ten, he was finally diagnosed with TSC. The spots are called ash leaf macules, and they are one of several skin manifestations of the disease. I just want to make other commenters aware that this is another alternative, especially if they won’t go away. Not many doctors are familar with TSC. It causes benign tunmors to grow in all of the body’s organs, especially the brain and kidneys. My son’s dermatologist diagnosed him by some red bumps on his face (facial tumors called angiofibromas) and by the ash leaf macules. If a wood’s lamp is shined on the skin, they will appear all over the body. Just please, be aware of this everyone. Thanks!

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    • Thank you for adding to the discussion. Much appreciated.

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    • Ken

      Well I only had these clear shin color bumps on the top of my hands.for years when I lived in Florida they would get bigger and wite in the Sun.and if I wasn’t in the Sun they would turn clear or skin color .well 10 year later I had them still.shell I noticed one on my tattoo .one day. After being in the Sun it stood out so I but it off .it was waxy.well 10 yrs latter I have them on the outside of my th foot lots in just a patch.now also this week here and there on rt leg .and left leg a bunch petty close but all up my leg .and still on hands.the some time itch .I use to just scrap the of if I noticed it.with my nails.and now there also spreading on my arms .which get white in the Sun.
      The Dr’s at 4 different hospitals said I have fybormyalga.it sucks and I fell 40 ft a few yrs ago I have nerve damage crushed disk .I am on gabapenton and closyerol meds and blud pressure cloadine.and my adhd meds .which I have been on 3 weeks. Which mite be when it gotten worse.maybe?.some times they itch .spreading .
      Do you have any ideas.the Dr felt my hand and said warts.out vinager on them..I have twice or more a day for two weeks it’s worse please help.kn

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      • Ken

        I forgot my kidneys been hurting and liver and under rt side of ribs.galblader is off and on sometimes do day a I’m 45

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  7. Veronica

    Ty great info!

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  8. Angela

    Could the white spot start pinkish? I notice my 11 yr old son start with red spots in the summer and then turn into white spots. The spots are extremely dry. It’s on his face. Is it okay to apply sunblock over the dry spots? Thank you.

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  9. Anna pinto

    I hav a white patches on my chest areas it look very dirty wen I wear low neck top is there medicine to avoid these patches plz help

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  10. Ajay kumar dahiya

    Dr.Greene, my son’s9year.use white patches h.nack,chin and lips. 2years ago.please let me know treatment, Thanks

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  11. Muhammad Mahim

    I have a small white mark in my face , I saw it 5 month ago and I use a cream for pimples there , it is the cause of used that cream , the cream name is Reetor-HC . Give me a solution please.

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  12. Tahir Malik

    Sir
    My sister have white patches on her face for a long period of time and her age is about 30 years . She should want to cosmatic sergery now. Sir if her face is completely recover from white patch then ok if no so what is better for her..

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  13. Ruth

    Dr Alan Greene, could you please recommend some Anti fungal creams drugs for my 2yrs old baby, that will help and heal the pink patches on my baby face and head.

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  14. zhun

    My white patches are in my arms and near in my elbows. It becomes more dry when I’m in an air conditioned room. It becomes so dry when I’m in cool place and also when I’m sweaty it more become whitish. Can you help me? It’s not exactly like tinea versicolor — small spots made of dry skin.

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  15. Angelica

    Thank you so much! I was at a beach earlier, trying to get my summer tan on when I noticed weird patches and blobs of pale skin on my upper arms and thighs. Thank god I read this article. Now I’m just heading out to purchase aquaphor, sunscreen and cetaphill :)

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    • Ruma Chowdhury

      Sir

      My daughter is 5 years.white patches in her chest and check.Please help me white it can be.I am very afraid.

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  16. Mou

    hi, my baby is 4 months. He suffered from fungal infection and it was reddish. I used antifungal cream. But now i am looking that there is a very samll white pale on the right side of his face. What it can be. I am very afraid.

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    • Uttam Biswas

      I have white spot on my skin. What I need to do for this.

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  17. venessa

    Hi doctor,

    I have been getting this patches since 17 years old. I’m now 36 and still getting it occasionally. I just use the selenium sulphite shampoo called Selsun Blue it really works wonderfully.

    Venessa

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    • Jenelia

      Hi venessa,
      I guess even I face the same trouble as you. It started during my teenage and till date, I m affected by these spots in summer when I m exposed to sun, They get itchy and ultimately leaving white uneven patches that turn black eventually with time. So just wanted to ask u regarding the selsun blue shampoo, Will it help? And how to use it? i searched online for the product, there are many available, Can u send me the link for the same? Kindly help. Thank u.

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  18. praveen

    I am 16 years old i had white spots on my total body iam feeling very irritating with those white spots please give me a suggestion to cure my disease

    Thank u

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  19. khushbu kumari

    Dr my mom age is 55yrs and she has gt white paches on her hands she s very fair but these patchrs are causing itching sensation on her hands need some valuable suggestions with any ointment name please

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  20. Rakshith

    Hi, I am 16 years old and have small white patches on my hands. How to cure my problems? Please give solution for this problem?

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    • Angelica

      Try moisturizers and sunscreen such as aquaphor or cetaphill

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  21. DIANA

    I have a son that is 12 years old. He has white spots that are all over his hip and down. I have tried so many thing that the doctor has given, but it is going everywhere. What should I do?

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  22. Navjinder kaur

    Hi Dr Greene,

    My baby is 3 months old and he is having white patches on his face. It’ss quite big round on his cheek. My GP said it looks like fungal infection, so she told me to use sorblene cream, but it makes baby’s skin worse. Can you please suggest what should I do? Thanks.

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  23. Robert W.

    I believe I have had the fungal infection since high school Junior year. I remember it started on my stomach because it would itch. I never though about it until more recently. It it on my whole abdominal area and wraps around to my back (not sure to what extent). My upper arms also have it where my deltoids are. I have tried the oral medication. It seemed to work well, but I was never able to finish them for the whole period and the patches reoccurred. I really don’t have the time or money to rub tiny bottles of foot cream all over me. I am wondering if the selenium shampoo would work, and what percentage should I look for? Any recommendations?

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  24. saksham

    fantastic thought

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  25. Jyoti

    My daughter is 14 years old. She has a white spot on her face and her skin is very dry. What lotion or cream we should apply? Please let us know.

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    • Jyoti – At 14 years old, and in May, there are a couple of different common causes of white spots on the face, with a couple of different best lotions or creams. A quick visit with a doc should help you narrow it down.

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  26. riddhi

    My 1.5 month baby has one big white patch on his right hand. I’m really worried what would be the reason for this. It’s just one big patch on hand — nowhere else. Please reply.

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  27. Jacobie

    Despite burns that I get on my pasty white complexion, I love golfing in the summer, and i found that sunscreen left my hands greasy and really affected my grip. I soon just stopped putting sunscreen on all together, and now i have a strange white spot on the back of my neck. What do you think that my skin problem is?

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  28. Jay kumar Tailor

    Suggests medicine for this please. Out of discussion.

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  29. Ekta sharma

    My son is turning 11 years old. He had white spot on his legs and ankles, knee, elbow and eye. Now they are coming to . Nothing working can you tell me what should I do?

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  30. Ramesh Ramavath

    Hi,

    My Son having the skin problem. that is red spot on face & elbows after that it is converting to white spots. pls suggest why it is coming.

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  31. Farzana

    Hi Doc, I visit California (Palmdale) from Houston with my grand daughter. She was premie. Now is 16 months. 2day before she had runny nose, whole face started red with red rashes spot on her face, whole night she couldn’t sleep properly. She was touching both her ears too. Might be ear ache or energy to change the weather or place. This was the second visit. I show the doctor next day — said viral infection. This was yesterday. I’m giving her Tylenol. Today I was giving her shower. I saw on her one side of hip there is a big white cloudy mark. I want to know what is this?

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  32. meenu

    hello
    I have this white rough patch on my cheek for about a week. But yesterday it got dark and the skin also on my upper lip and chin is kinda patchy and darker than my normal skin tone. What should I do?

    I had sun exposure 2 or 3 days back, but I was wearing spf 30 sunscreen.

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    • prince

      You have to stop using the spf30 sunscreen. It might happen it’s the one causing the skin infection in different phases. Try to avoid the sun and stay indoors or avoid being in the sun for best results.

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    • vijay

      I have white spots on my face they do not even tan. I have tried some medicines but they didn’t work for long.

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  33. Urmila

    Dear Dr Greene,

    Having seen doctors 5-6 times now I am worried as my daughter has had this skin condition for couple of months now and it does not seem to get any better despite using the ointments prescribed to her.

    Can you help me understand what she might be suffering from? I am concerned as nothing seems to work and her skin can get very itchy and scaly too.

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  34. Rochelle

    My daughter is 7 and has developed white patches with brown spots in the centre. It started as a rash that looked like a ringworm on her her face. It is now spreading to her neck and arms. She has been on penicillin and other antibiotics but nothing worked. What can I do. No one in my family has ever had skin problems.

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  35. Martha

    My son is 18 and has had this white patches on his face for a couple of years already. Nothing seems to work but, show more when he’s out in the sun?

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  36. Yolanda

    Hi, I have a big white circle around my eye .. I’ve had it for almost 3 years =\ I desperately need help!

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    • Ryan

      Same here! The rest of my face gets tanned and that round patch around my eye becomes even more visible. I am 14 and brown skinned living in the UK. I need help..

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  37. amiel

    I have then dry white spots on my back and it always itches sometimes in the summer. I go swimming a lot, but also I wash my face in the morning and about a minute later dry white spots came around my lower cheeks around my mouth.

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    • Jonathan Stewart

      You could be allergic to one of the ingredients in the face wash

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  38. Swati

    Hello Dr. My 2 month baby is having white spot on her legs and a small patch on tummy. After the birth we did not noticed it. Now, after 1 and 1/2 months, we have noticed it. What we should do? Is this something serious?

    Thanks,
    Swati

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  39. Jessica

    Hello. So, My arms are starting to show white spots. However, they’re not scaly, or dry. Actually, it’s more in the complection of the arm. I have an olive skin tone, but the arms have small white patches appearing. Is this something I need to be concerned about?

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    • Malkum

      I’m getting those spots too the hot showers are causing it. I was showering once and a blister just popped up on my feet from out of no where. I’m sure it can be the toxins in the water too which I’m afraid of.

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  40. Ashwini

    I’m 23 years old. I have white patches on my face.

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    • punitha

      Am 25 years old .I have white patches on cheeks during winter season.

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  41. kelson jansen

    using lotrimin ultra antifungle and showering with medicated selsun blue, still not going away

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  42. lil

    I am 35 years old I have skin fungus about twice a year. It stays with me like 30 days. I am going to different doctors, but still I live with it. Please doctor, I want to know how to protect my skin. Thanks.

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    • col

      Hi Guys,
      If it’s funghal, consider using organic apple cider vinegar. I use organic to avoid anything chemical based. Simply soak cotton wool in the vinegar, and apply it several times a day over the spots, letting the vinegar soak into the affected skin. I even applied some to a plaster and stuck it over the worst. over a week they stopped growing and after a few weeks the skin was back to normal. This was a fungal condition in my case, the circles where the exact pattern you seen in a laboratory when they grow spores in a slide!

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  43. Ark

    Some white patches have developed between scrotum and thigh joint on my skin. Is it really a reason of concern or is it a infection?

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  44. Ark

    White patches have developed between scrotum and thigh joint. Is it a reason of concern or is it a simple infection? Please help me, doctor?

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  45. shivani

    My daughter (7years of age) has white spots on her arms and legs. She has been to several doctors, of course diagnosed with different things and given different medications. A doctor even said she had early stages of vitiligo, but her blood tests came back normal. I am at a loss now.

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  46. dimple

    Hello doctor. My name is Dimple and I have two children – boys, 9 and 10 years old. My 9 year has white patches on his face. What can I do?

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  47. divij

    Hello doctor,
    My name is Divij Madan. I am 12. I have a lot of white patches on my face since i was 11.
    Some people say that it is because of excessive swimming.

    Some people say that I have because of deficiency of vitamin D but i drink at least 2 glasses of milk for vitamin-D a day.
    Can you suggest why I have these white patches and the treatment to fix them.

    Thank you

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  48. Mohit Jain

    Hello DOctor,

    I am 30 years of age. I am having Psoriasis marks on my scalp, legs, back. Please advise me on it.

    Regards

    Mohit

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  49. kay

    My daughter is 8 yrs old and has white patches on her thighs and hips, i live in a tropical climate. Is there any advice you can give me? The spots were a few but now there are soooo many on her now. It doesnt itch and the spots are not scaly or lifted up from the surface of her skins.

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  50. Neha

    Hi,

    I am 26 years old, I have got these white patches in my chin and neck area from 6 months, I had been to a coastal area where I was exposed to extreme heat. I guess It started after coming back from there.

    I had rashes and itching in the beginning for a day and then slowly these white patches arose. Please let me know what I can do to get rid of it as it look so bad on my face.
    Thanks.

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  51. Nadia

    Hi doc my problem is we live in Dubai and I have ason of 16 years old he has been playing in the sun during his break he plays basketball and now I can see small patches of white /beige patches on his face and I’m really worried what this is pls help me with your great experience thank you

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  52. rhys

    Hey , im 18 and i have started to notice tinea versicolor on a small area of my neck , i am always exposed to sun as i surf nearly everyday but this has never occurred before , is this just a random skin infection or will it keep on occurring ??
    Thanks

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    • talal

      yes

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  53. An

    Hi – my daughter is 21 months old, and recently (last few months) Iv noticed a lighter patch on her thigh, about 6cm long (it may be more noticeable as its been summer and she is more tanned than normal) I am very concerned it is vitiligo, as there does seem to be another small patch on her opposite leg, but its also not VERY white, looks more like a faded tan. There is no history in our family of vitiligo. Any ideas would be appreciated!

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  54. An

    Hi – my daughter is 21 months old, and recently (last few months) Iv noticed a lighter patch on her thigh, about 6cm long (it may be more noticeable as its been summer and she is more tanned than normal) I am very concerned it is vitiligo, as there does seem to be another small patch on her opposite leg, but its also not VERY white, looks more like a faded tan. There is no history in our family of vitiligo. Any ideas would be appreciated!

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  55. PENGUiiN

    i love you

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  56. Alyssa Breeding

    hello,
    this is my 2 year old son…hes had these white patches for a couple of months and they seem to be spreading…it started on a small part by his neck and now they go down his arms and in random places on his back…any ideal if it could be in the article above??

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  57. Barbara Hewins

    I am a 61 year young female who has always had beautiful skin all my life. Fortunately, never had acne. Well, about 9 months ago I noticed that these little small dry-achy spots appeared on my eyelids, around my mouth, some on my chin, and neck. Well, I panicked because I have always looked so much younger than my age, but these spots had me thinking it was eczema (which I’ve always had in my scalp only), or even skin cancer. I went to a medical doctor that prescribed Triamcinolone Acetonide Cream. It immediately stopped the itching…but…when the white patches went away, this darkish blue discoloration appeared in it’s place. By then I was extremely depressed!!! I am a very fair-skin Black woman, and a former Model, now a Modeling Coach…I need great skin!…but now I have this discoloration on my face where ever the patches were; almost looking like I have a five o’clock shadow. And makeup does not cover it! Well, I dealt with the discoloration for 9 months because I could see it trying to fade away slightly, but within the last 2 weeks, here comes the while dry patches again!!! And it’s getting bigger and bigger (started out the size of a Tic-Tac)!! I called the pharmaceutical company about the cream, but they said they never had anyone call with my complaint. When I came on Google and researched my problem, they gave me the assumption that it may be a yeast infection! Okay…I can stop eating sugar, potatoes, dairy, etc. But I’m still so confused because I keep my face washed and moisturized daily! I have to because it’s part of my business. I’m am so lost at this moment and feeling like shutting myself in the house forever!!! I’m very serious…I need some help!…:-(((((

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    • Alan Greene

      How frustrating, Barbara! Yeast infections can cause white spots. Dietary changes might make these less likely to start, but once a yeast infection is going strong an anti-yeast cream can be much quicker at making it go away. Triamcinolone is not an anti-yeast cream, btw.

      With skin problems that aren’t getting better as hoped or expected, I’m a fan of seeing a dermatologist (skin specialist).

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  58. jerry cole

    Hi my name is jerry im 20 years old and have white spots all over my arms and a little on my neck it looks alot like the picture….what can I take or do to make them eventually go away?

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    • Alan Greene

      Jerry, tinea versicolor, described in the article above, can look like the spots in your picture. Tinea versicolor is treated with anti-fungal medications. Seeing a dermatologist can help make it clear what’s causing your spots.

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  59. nathalie

    hi, i am 22 and have these white patches all over my back and stomach and chest. they are spreading to my arms and i am so scared it will go to my face. ive tried teatree oil and selsum before with no results. and just started lamsil. i dont know what else to do, ive been to so many doctors and nothing. it looks like tinea versicolor and the doctor say it is a fungal infection, i just dont wanna live with this on my face! what else can i do? please helppp
    ive changed my diet to little to no sugar because so internet forums say it occurs bcause of yeast overgrowth inside the body. still no change.

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    • Alan Greene

      Hi Natalie. Lamasil is usually very effective for fungal infections. If it’s not doing the trick, I’m a fan of seeing a dermatologist to be sure you know what you are dealing with.

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  60. Generous DuBois Calliste

    has white spots directly on my pores all over my back. they are itchy and are spreading.

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  61. Alan Greene

    Both pityriasis alba and tinea versicolor can itch and spread. But tinea versicolor, the fungal infection, is more common on the back and more common in people over age 16.

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