White spots on the skin can occur for a variety of reasons. Most of them occur due to loss of pigmentation as you age. A lot of these are not harmful and can be treated at home. But if you do have a mole that changes shape, colour, texture or size every day or every once in a while, you should definitely consider getting it checked.
What Gives Colour To Our Cells?
Our skin gets its colour from a group of naturally occurring pigments collectively called melanin, which is produced in cells called melanocytes. Melanin is produced by the oxidation of tyroisne, an amino acid, and then followed by polymerization. This process is called melanogenesis.
Melanin is an absorbent of UV radiation; it can dissipate up to 99% of the radiation. UV radiation is what onsets melanogenisis in humans, causing the skin to darken in colour. Because of this property it is said that melanin protects cells in our body from UV damage, reducing risks of cancer.
Though the study is ongoing, it is said that more the melanin, the darker the tone of skin, the lesser is the chance of acquiring any form of skin cancer.
Melanin is present in the skin, brain cells, inner ear, retina of the eye, hair and in the adrenal gland. Melanocytes are found in the basal layer of the epidermis of the skin. Though the amount of these cells is more or less the same in all individuals, the synthesis of melanin differs.
This difference in synthesis of melanin is what determines the colour of the skin of an individual. In some individuals there's no synthesis of melanin at all; this condition is called albinism. In this condition, the skin of the individual is paper white and there is no colour in the eyebrows, eyelashes, eyes and the hair on the head.
A group of melanocytes in a cluster give rise to moles, age spots, freckles and other spots on the skin. Sometimes there can be a reduction of melanin production causing white spots; this is called hypopigmentation.
Due to age and many other factors, these melanocytes sometimes get damaged or disintegrate altogether. This can be seen in all age groups. Though the white spots that appear on older women's skin is caused by one condition - Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis.
What Is Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis?
Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is a condition that causes flat, white spots of the size 2-5 mm going up to 10 mm, called macules to appear on the skin as you age. Idiopathic means "cause in unknown", guttate means "like a teardrop" and hypomelanosis refers to the loss of pigmentation, or the white colour of the spots that appear.
It is known to affect people with a light skin colour more than the ones who have a concentrated amount of melanin. These spots can appear in any part of the body that has been exposed to the sun.
Women are more prone to acquiring this condition than men, especially those above the age of 40. Sometimes, idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is confused with vitiligo, where the melanocytes die or don't produce melanin anymore.
What Causes Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis?
The causes of idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis can be speculated. The three most popular speculations being -
1. Age - Occurrences of idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis have been recorded in a higher number with older age. It's considered to be similar to greying of hair. It's unavoidable for many. With age, the number of melanocytes reduces in the epidermis, giving rise to this condition. These spots are first spotted on the legs before they start showing up on the other areas.
2. Exposure to the sun - It has also been debated to be caused by sun damage. Excessive exposure to the sun can not only cause your skin to darken but after a threshold these white discolourations start to appear.
3. Non-sun related - seborrheic keratosis - This is a non-cancerous skin tumor that originates from the keratinocytes that are present on the upper layer of the skin. These could cause the onset of idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis.
How Can Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis Be Treated?
Speaking very bluntly, there is no treatment for this ageing ailment. As we know, it's like greying of your hair, inevitable. Also, treatment is not required because these white spots are completely harmless.
• Makeup - If you're very conscious about these spots and don't want to undergo any medical treatment, then makeup is the solution. Though this could help cover the spots on the face only, until you have the patience to cover all the spots on your body.
• Laser treatment - Laser treatment can be used for permanent removal of this type of discolouration. Though laser treatment has a set of side effects that you need to make yourself aware of before you opt for it.
• Cryotherapy - Liquid nitrogen is used here to freeze tissues at a cellular level.
• Microdermabrasion - A minimal abrasion instrument is used to sand your skin.
• Phototherapy - Treatment with light.
• Chemical peels - Like phenol and trichloroacetic acid peels.
• Retinoids - Like tretinoin cream.
There are also some home remedies that can be tried, though the results are not definite.
• Cabbage - Incorporate Cabbage in your diet. Apply or drink cabbage juice. It's known to help this condition.
• Walnuts and figs - These two have a lot of antioxidants that help fight sun damage.
• Ginger juice - Drink or apply ginger juice with a few drops of lemon juice to the spots directly.
There's no reason to worry about these white spots on your skin. Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is completely harmless. So it does not affect your health in anyway, and is inevitable as we age.
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