White Spots on Legs
Those white spots on your legs and thighs can be due to a number of things. Read on to find out the 3 most likely skin conditions responsible for those spots and what you can do to remove them.
by Brad Chase
If white spots start appearing on your legs, then it is time to start considering what might be causing them. These spots can either be harmless or signs of an oncoming disease.
Unless those white spots on your legs become painful, there are only a few number of skin conditions that might cause it.
You may have to see a dermatologist to get a precise diagnosis but, before you do, you can also do a little investigation on your own to find out what the likely causes of those white spots are.
White spots on the skin are essentially areas of depigmentation.
This means that the melanin production in those areas of the skin is falling. Reduced melanin production can be caused by increased destruction or deactivation of melanocytes in the skin.
Since melanocytes are the skin cells responsible for producing the skin pigment, melanin, they are likely involved in any white spots appearing on your skin.
Of all the options available, the sudden or progressive appearance of benign white spots on your legs can only mean one of the following: idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis, tinea versicolor or vitiligo.
Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (IGH) is also called white age spots. It is a harmless form of local leukoderma.
By its name, IGH means the appearance of teardrop-like (guttate), white macules (hypomelanosis) of unknown cause (idiopathic). The white spots of IGH resemble freckles and they are scattered on the skin like confetti. They are round in shape, of varying sizes and are painless lesions.
IGH is mostly found in middle-aged women but it is also known to affect people of both sexes especially during their late 20s and early 30s.
The white spots of IGH are usually found on the exposed parts of the skin especially the legs, arms, face, neck and shoulder. These are also the body parts most exposed to sunlight. IGH is most evident in dark-skinned people especially following prolonged exposure to sunlight.
The spots of IGH are usually small in size and range between 1mm and 3mm. However, they can also grow as wide as 10mm. These spots can be circular or angular.
The exact causes of IGH are still unknown but based on clinical evidences, prolong exposure to sunlight is believed to be a chief cause. IGH may also be caused by other skin conditions such as seborrheic keratosis.
IGH is called age spots because the skin loses its color much like the hair does during aging.
It is the result of a gradual reduction in the population of melanocytes in the skin. IGH is benign; it is not caused by trauma nor is it a sign of skin infection. IGH does not increase the risk of skin cancer.
Since the white spots of IGH are harmless and do not spread quickly, most people prefer to leave them untreated. Even available treatment options are adapted treatments for related hypopigmentation disorders such vitiligo.
There is no guarantee that these treatments will succeed in reversing the pigment loss of IGH and in some cases they can make the hypopigmentation worse.
Below is a summary of available treatment options for IGH.
Cryotherapy: This is also called cold therapy or cryosurgery. It involves freezing the tissues of the skin at the cellular level with liquid nitrogen.
Microdermabrasion: This involves increasing the skin turnover in a bid to re-stimulate melanin production and remove the white spots along with the top layer of the skin.
Skin Grafting: This involves the surgical transplantation of normal, pigmented skin over the white spots.
Retinoid creams: These can increase the skin turnover and rejuvenate the skin too.
Topical steroids: These are immunomodulatory agents that can stop the destruction of the melanocytes by autoimmune attack from cells of the immune system.
Camouflage: Rather than seek to remove the white spots, this technique involves the masking of those spots with makeup, cover creams and self-tanning lotions.
Home Treatment: Plants that can be used for treating IGH at home include ginger, cabbage, walnut and figs.
Tinea versicolor refers to the depigmentation of the skin by the action of fungi such as Malassezia globosa and Malassezia furfur. These fungi are normally found on the skin but given the right condition, they grow in large numbers and cause white spots to appear on the skin.
Tinea versicolor affects 2 – 8% of the population. It mostly affects children, adolescents and young adult.
Although tinea versicolor presents as white, rash-like breakouts in dark-skinned people, it can actually cause dark spots in people with light skin.
The enabling environment for tinea versicolor is hot, humid climate. Therefore, it is mostly seen during the summer months especially when the skin is tanned and the sharp contrast between the white spots and the darker skin is most evident.
The fungi that cause tinea versicolor feed on the sebum and dead cells accumulated on the skin. Therefore, it usually presents along with other skin diseases such as dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.
The white spots of tinea versicolor start out small and oval in shape. They may grow to form larger patches.
A closer look at those spots should make the fine, scaling of the skin caused by the fungi visible. Under the microscope, these fungi look round with outgrowths of filament. For this reason, tinea versicolor fungi are commonly referred to as “spaghetti and meatballs”
Another way to see if the white spots on your legs are due to tinea versicolor is to raise your temperature. This can be done with hot bath or exercise. When the temperature of the skin rises, tinea versicolor spots turn white.
In some cases, these spots will also itch but the itching subsides when sweat gets to the skin.
Tinea versicolor is treated with antifungal agents. Although these drugs clear off the causative fungi very quickly, the skin discoloration may remain for a few months and may only disappear when the skin loses its tan.
Topical antifungal agents are effective treated for tinea versicolor. Examples of such drugs are tolnaftate, ketoconazole, clotrimazole and ciclopirox.
However, the most commonly used antifungal agent for tinea versicolor is selenium sulfate. This topical agent is available in 2 strengths: 2.5% and 1%.
Oral antifungal agents such as ketoconazole, fluconazole and itraconazole are also used. Sometimes, doctors recommend working up a sweat after taking these oral drugs. This is needed in order to sweat out the drug so that when the sweat evaporates, the drugs are left to act on the skin.
Herbal extracts such as the ones taken from candle bush and tea tree oil are also used.
Vitiligo is a skin depigmentation disorder caused by the destruction of melanocytes.
Melanocytes are the specialized skin cells that produce melanin, the skin pigment. These cells are found at the bottom of the epidermis and they are activated when sunlight penetrates the skin.
Melanin is one of the skin’s defensive mechanisms for reducing the damage caused by the ultraviolet irradiation from sunlight. Therefore, when it is produced in lesser quantity, the skin turns white and becomes more prone to sunburn.
Vitiligo affects 1 - 2% of the population and most of its sufferers experience it between the ages of 20 and 40. It affects both sexes and people of all races equally but, like any other depigmentation disorder, it is more evident in dark-skinned people.
Vitiligo is benign and it is not contagious. It is not caused by an infection and, in most patients, it produces no other symptoms except the white spots that appears on the skin.
These spots usually start out small and affect the trunks, limbs but especially the face, neck, and scalp.
However, vitiligo spots can grow and spread to other parts of the body. When they expand, they grow out from the center. They can form even larger patches on the skin.
A visual examination of the white spots on your legs can help determine if they are caused by vitiligo.
Vitiligo spots are just like normal skin except they are depigmented. They do not itch or have scales and there are no changes in skin tone. However, the hairs growing out of vitiligo spots can also turn white.
There are various suggested causes of vitiligo. These are summarized below.
Autoimmune Attack: The cells of the immune system can attack melanocytes believing them to be foreign bodies. There are clinical evidences for this theory including the presence and high levels of antibodies and specialized immune cells in vitiligo patients.
Also, the autoimmune theory accounts for the reason some vitiligo patients may also have other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid dysfunction and alopecia areata.
Melanocyte Defects: If some melanocytes are malformed, they may not live as long as healthy melanocytes. The intrinsic defects in melanocytes can refer to any structural or functional defect that reduces the lifespan of these melanin-producing cells.
Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress refers to the increased levels of harmful free radicals and other destructive byproducts of cellular metabolism. When these reactive species are not immediately removed from the skin by antioxidants, they may destroy melanocytes.
Nerve Damage: Vitiligo spots have also been reported in patients after they experienced some form of nerve damage. It is believed that the changes in neurochemical mediators released at nerve endings reduce the production of melanin.
Genetic Defects: Defects in genes can have far-ranging effects. These defects can be responsible for weakened melanocytes, increased oxidative stress or increased susceptibility of melanocytes to autoimmune attack.
Genetics definitely play a role in the vitiligo. For example, 1 in 3 vitiligo patients has another family member with this same skin disorder.
Besides camouflaging vitiligo spots with cover creams and self-tanning lotions, you can also try to repigment those white spots.
Steroid creams and other topical agents such as tacrolimus and pimecrolimus are first-line treatment options. These are simple, affordable solutions but they are not as effective as the expensive, time-consuming light therapies.
Light therapies include PUVA (psoralen ultraviolet A treatment), narrow band UVB and excimer laser.
Surgical transplant of normal, pigmented skin or melanocytes on those white spots is also an option especially when drugs fail.
To improve treatment success and prevent relapse, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements can also be taken. Callumae, a vitiligo supplement, contains the right active ingredients to help improve the outcome of your treatment.
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Callumae is a Vitiligo Remedy designed to help get rid of white spots on your skin. Use in conjuction with light therapy (or natural sun light) to help get the most repigmentation to your skin.