White Spots on Skin: Common Causes and Potential Treatments

Updated October 10, 2022
Woman with Vitiligo

Did you notice a small white patch on your leg when you were throwing on your swimsuit? Maybe you have a mole with a white ring around it. White spots on skin (also called hypopigmentation) are predominately fungal in origin, although they are sometimes a symptom of an autoimmune condition.

The causes of white patches on the skin are vast. Therefore, their treatments are also varied. Keep yourself informed by learning a few common conditions that might cause white patches or white spots on your skin.

Common Causes of White Spots on Skin

So, you started to notice a white spot around your mole or on your hands. A lack or loss of pigment is known as hypopigmentation. Hypopigmentation can be caused by any number of underlying conditions (such as vitiligo, anemia or tuberous sclerosis, among many others). Therefore, the treatment for hypopigmentation varies based on the underlying cause.

If you are trying to figure out the cause, you should see your healthcare provider or dermatologist. White patches on the skin might be caused by any one of these conditions or absolutely none of them. Check out some of the most common causes of white spots on the skin.

Tinea Versicolor

One of the most common fungal causes of white spots on the skin is tinea versicolor, which is caused by a yeast called Malassezia furfur. It is related to the yeasts that cause athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm, but unlike those conditions, it is not contagious. Tinea versicolor can manifest with either red, brown, or white spots on the skin, dry or scaly, and appear anywhere on the body.

According to the ADA, tinea versicolor can be treated by a dermatologist who can prescribe a prescription treatment that kills yeast. Treatment depends on the location and how large the affected area of skin is. Affected skin may not regain its full color and may stay lighter or darker for weeks or even months. To keep skin tone even, avoid tanning and always protect your skin from the sun.

Back with Tinea versicolor spots


When white spots on the skin become patches and spread, it may be due to vitiligo, which is a hereditary condition whereby the skin loses melanin (pigment). Individuals can develop localized patches in a few areas or generalized patches all over the body. Some might even lose most of their skin color, called universal vitiligo.

While there is no cure, active treatment can slow the loss of pigment. Unfortunately, although there are a number of theories, what actually causes vitiligo is unknown.

The American Vitiligo Research Foundation offers several coping skills for those with vitiligo.

  • Always use sunscreen. Sunscreen not only protects the skin against harmful sun rays but minimizes tanning, which makes depigmented skin less noticeable.
  • Make a good connection with a dermatologist and learn about treatment options.
  • Communicate your feeling and talk with others about your vitiligo.

Halo Nevus

Do you have a white halo around a mole? This might be a halo nevus. A halo nevus is a pink- or brown-toned mole surrounded by very light or white skin, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD). There is no specific treatment required, although a yearly skin exam is recommended to rule out any abnormalities or malignant melanomas. Additionally, the AOCD notes that halo nevus can be connected with vitiligo.

Halo Nevus

Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a rare chronic inflammatory skin disorder that typically affects the external genitalia and anus, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). It manifests with symptoms that include thinning skin, white patches on the skin, and pain. The patches may be localized, or the plaques may spread over a wider area. The cause of this condition is currently unknown.


You'll probably know there is something going on if you begin to present symptoms of morphea, which is a hardening and thickening of the skin. This skin condition causes red or purple patches to appear on the skin, usually on the torso, arms, and legs. The patches eventually change to a yellow tint and develop a white center. They may eventually turn brown before finally becoming white. The cause of morphea is unknown, and the treatment varies based on the lesions, noted StatPearls.

Morphea on back of 16 year old caucasian woman

Pityriasis Alba

Similar to eczema, pityriasis alba is a skin disorder that can cause round or oval white patches on the skin, which are sometimes flaky. The AOCD explains that these patches usually appear on the face, upper arms, neck, and torso and are most prevalent in children and teenagers. They are treated with prescription topical creams and do clear up, although the condition sometimes returns. The lesions come in a variety of shapes, and the cause is unknown.
Other Factors Causing White Spots on the Skin

White patches on the skin may cause some alarm, if only because they typically appear very suddenly and unexpectedly. They can be a symptom of a minor condition that is treated by a dermatologist, or they may be suggestive of something more serious. While determining what is causing these patches is a job best left to a dermatologist, you can consider a few environmental factors causing white spots.

Tanning Salons

Whether from fungus or from the intensity of the exposure, many people who regularly visit tanning salons notice white spots on the skin. Certain prescriptions, such as birth control pills and oral acne medications, can interfere with the skin's normal processes and make it more sensitive to light, which in turn can cause the skin to tan unevenly, resulting in white spots.

Anyone taking such medications is probably wisest to avoid tanning salons. If the white spots are caused by a fungus, any over-the-counter antifungal cream will treat it within about two weeks, although you may still not tan evenly.

Skin Damage

White spots on the skin can also be caused by skin damage from burns, infections, or a problem with a laser damage. It is very important to get a recommendation for a laser specialist from a trusted source such as your dermatologist.

How to Maintain Skin Health

If you are prone to white spots for any reason, it is even more important to be vigilant about applying sunscreen year-round. Skin that doesn't have the proper amount of melanin is more prone to permanent damage and requires good protection.


The Skin Cancer Foundation grants its Seal of Recommendation to products that have been reviewed and meet the highest standards. When looking for sunscreen, check for this seal to be sure you are getting the best protection possible.

Be Cautious in Sun

It's also important to follow basic sun-sense rules such as using a strong sunblock and wearing a hat and cloth that cover your skin when out during the brightest parts of the day should do a lot to keep the white spots from returning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also lay down other important sun safety tips like finding shade and wearing sunglasses.

How to Treat White Spots on Skin

Since there are several possible causes for white patches, there are equally as many treatments. It's important to see your healthcare practitioner or dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and course of treatment.

Though a physician typically prescribes medical treatments, several conditions may also benefit from home remedies. Ayurvedic remedies, for example, such as amla juice mixed with honey and neem leaf juice, are considered helpful treatments for vitiligo. Note that if your skin is very sensitive, it is best to avoid these or at the very least consult your doctor prior to use to ensure that it does not have any adverse effects on your prescription medications.

White Spots on Skin: Common Causes and Potential Treatments