People are often diagnosed with vitiligo when they develop white spots on the face or body. But not all white spots are vitiligo. Because June is vitiligo awareness month, we thought we would explore some common causes of white spots on the skin.

1. Pityriasis alba
This is the name given to what our founder, Dr Rodrigues, thinks is a type of dematitis. It is seen mostly in those with mixed ethnicity skin types and in those with skin of colour.

Small white or white spots are seen usually on the face. Pityriasis alba can be associated with asthma and hayfever.

Usually gentle, non-soap cleansers and moisturisers are enough to keep things controlled but occasionally mild prescribed creams (eg. steroids, immunomodulators, calcineurin inhibitors) are needed to treat areas that are itchy, irritated or scaly.

2. Pityriasis versicolor
Pityriasis versicolor is caused by a fungus called Pityrosporum ovale (also known as Malassezia furfur). This is a yeast infection that can appear as scaly white spots on the skin. It is usually seen on the trunk, arms, neck and the face.

Pityriasis versicolor usually affects people who live in warmer climates, people who sweat a lot and people who work out a lot. This condition is quite easy to diagnose clinically in most cases, but if there is doubt, a skin scraping can be taken.

Pityriasis versicolor can be treated with a topical anti-fungal shampoo, cream or lotion. Occasionally oral treatment (tablets) are also needed when there is very extensive or recurrent pityriasis.

3. Post-inflammatory hypopigmentation
White spots can develop on the skin after things like eczema and skin irritation. This pigment change is not permanent and will eventually resolve over time.

The most important thing is to treat the underlying skin condition quickly and effectively to try to stop the spread of the skin condition and to try to stop it from becoming severe. The more severe and widespread the skin irritation, the more intense and prolonged the post inflammatory hyperpigmentation becomes. While it will usually resolve over a few months, intense post-inflammatory hypopigmentation, especially when induced by laser or light devices, may last over one year.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that affects the pigment cells in the skin. This can cause white spots to develop on the skin and hair. It affects about 1-2% of the population. There is treatment out there that can help people get pigment back but at this time, there is no cure. 

The changes on the skin are usually really white rather than slightly discoloured. Your dermatologist may require a Woods lamp to help work out if vitiligo is present or not. This tool is more helpful in people with lighter skin types.

For more scientifically factual information on vitiligo, check out our prior blogs and website posts!

The information contained in this blog post is intended as a guide only and should not substitute seeking medical attention. Please see your healthcare provider for more information on suitability of products, treatments or procedures.