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White Age Spots

How to Treat White Spots That Can Appear on Skin of Color

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White Age Spots

The appearance of white age spots (idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis) on a leg.

Photo: © Gerrie Summers

What is Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis (IGH)?

If you are starting to see small white dots on your shins and other areas of your body, don’t panic. This is probably due to a condition called idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (IGH), an acquired benign leukoderma (localized loss of pigmentation of the skin) often described as small, white confetti-like spots or white freckles. These round, painless lesions of depigmentation or hypopigmentation appear on the shins, legs, arms and other sun-exposed areas of the body like the face, neck and shoulders.

IGH is not related to vitiligo in which melanin producing cells die or are unable to function properly and no longer form melanin.

What Causes IGH?

It’s not really known what causes IGH. Idiopathic means that the cause is unknown, gluttate means "resembling teardrops" and hypomelanosis refers to the lighter color of the affected areas. The macules are small, around 1-3 mm in diameter though they can measure up to 10 mm and are circular or angular. It is suspected that the natural aging process causes the condition. The skin loses pigment through a gradual reduction in melanocytes; much like hair loses pigment during the aging process and turns gray or white. Other theories are that the condition is caused by sun damage or non-sun related sehorrhoeic keratosis. It is not caused by trauma or infection, nor does it indicate an increased risk of skin cancer.

Who is Prone to Developing IGH?

IGH was originally thought to occur mostly in middle-aged, light skinned women, but the white spots have been known to appear in the late 20s and early 30s. It is mostly seen in women, but is increasingly being seen in both sexes, as well as in dark skinned people who have had long-term sun exposure.

Medical Treatments

Most doctors don’t believe treatment is required since the spots are harmless. Typical treatments are:

  • Cryotherapy (also called cryosurgery or cold therapy) in which liquid nitrogen is used to freeze tissues at the cellular level
  • Dermabrasion or microdermabrasion
  • Grafting of normally pigmented skin
  • Retinoids such as tretinoin cream
  • Topical steroids
  • Camouflage makeup

Some of these treatments have had minimal success and in some circumstances can actually make the condition worse.

Do You Need to Consult a Medical Professional?

If you begin to notice these white spots, visit your dermatologist to rule out other conditions such as vitiligo, pityriasis alba (a skin condition usually found in children and young adults, that causes the development of round or oval white spots on the face, neck and upper arms) or tinea versicolor, a fungal infection characterized by white skin macules, patches and flaking. If it turns out to be idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis, become more diligent in using sunscreen. Avoid sun tanning, which will emphasize the contrast in pigment and can cause other macules to form.

Are There Natural Treatments for IGH?

Since IGH is a benign condition, there does not seem to be much research on medical or natural treatments. There are a few home remedies that have been recommended by individuals who have claimed show positive results, and have also noted that these treatments can take up to six months or more to take effect. There is no scientific evidence that these treatments actually work.

At Home Treatments

Fresh ginger. Ginger juice increases blood flow to the de-pigmented areas. Ginger juice can also be mixed with lemon juice and water to improve the condition of the skin. A poultice made from ginger leaves or a paste made from the ginger root can be applied directly to the white spots.

Fresh cabbage juice. Fresh cabbage juice, used either as a beverage or applied topically to the skin, is believed to help with the condition. Add cabbage to your diet. It can’t hurt; cabbage has numerous nutritional benefits.

Figs and walnuts. Regularly consume figs and walnuts. Figs are rich in antioxidants and fight free radical damage and the negative effects of sun exposure. Though walnuts are probably used more for white patches caused by tinea versicolor due to their anti-fungal properties, walnuts are packed with anti-aging nutrients such as B vitamins (which are great for the skin), antioxidants for skin regeneration and elasticity, and they also boost circulation bringing oxygen and nutrients to the skin cells.

Basil and lime. Add basil extract to lime juice and apply to the area to stimulate melanin production.

This document has been reviewed by the Medical Review Board and is considered medically accurate.

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