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White Patches On The Skin

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

During the summer months I get frequent phone calls or an occasional office visit, with the chief complaint being, “my child has white patches” on their face. I even remember someone calling my attention to my own son’s white patches when he was a little boy playing baseball and another mother was concerned that he had ringworm all over his face and might be contagious to all of the other players!!

The most common reason for these white patches is a condition called pityriasis alba, which really just means scaly, white patch. Pityriaisis alba is in many ways similar to mild eczema. It usually affects children, typically between the ages of three to 13.

These light patches are usually pronounced during the summer months as the skin becomes tan and these areas do not tan. They appear as light colored patches that then blend in to the normal tanned skin, and are more ill defined than ringworm and do not have the typical border of a fungal skin infection.

When looked at closely they may even have very fine skin flakes as the condition is related to dry skin. Although it typically occurs on the face you can see it on the upper arms or neck. The child is totally asymptomatic, and may often have several patches on their cute faces.

The treatment is simply to moisturize the skin with something like Eucerin or Aquaphor or any other moisturizer. But even with moisturizer, the white patches will remain through the summer and early fall until a child’s tan has faded. If the moisturizing routine is continued during the winter and spring months the areas will miraculously re-pigment with a summer tan the following summer.

Speaking of tans, this is a good time to remember to use sunscreen and re-apply frequently. Sunscreen will also help to moisturize the skin. We still have lots of sunny days ahead of us and don’t want to neglect sunscreen, even when sending your children back to school.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question to Dr. Sue!

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6 Responses to “White Patches On The Skin”

  1. isis says:

    Very helpful, Thank you!

  2. Haley S. says:

    You would not believe how many websites I surfed through trying to find the solution to this, none of which were very helpful, if nothing other than made to terrify parents! Thank you for your ‘easy access” information! I will be back to YOUR website the next time I have a question and need a quick and direct answer!

  3. Haley S. says:

    I surfed many websites trying to find a reasonable answer to my son’s ailment, most of which looked to exist for the sole purpose of scaring the pants off parents! Thank you for your “easy access” website, I will come here first the next time I need a quick, professional answer!

  4. white spotts!! says:

    Thanks so much!! it was VERY helpful! your website was the only accurate one i found! Maybe my FAmily doctor should read this!! she doesn’t know what she is doing. she told me to put hydrocortisone on my daughters face!
    Thanks again!!

  5. Becky says:

    My son is 13, and of mixed race, has beautiful tan skin, but HATES it becuase of these white patches. They come and go, some stay always, and get larger. Our Dermatologist said eczma and it would start getting better soon. I hope so, he has put up with this for a long time, kids are merciless. The lotions all seem to burn when I apply them, so for the most part we leave them alone. Thank you for the info.

  6. Janice says:

    Great information! I just noticed this one spot on my son’s face but now his entire face looks like it has small white patches but it is barely noticeable since it blends in. He does have eczema so I was hoping it was related to that instead of a fungal infection like some people have told me. He just started preschool and Hawaii’s sun can be hot! I need to start putting sunscreen on him everyday. Thanks again!

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