Patches with discolored skin, including birthmarks, pigmentation defects, rashes, and infections, are normal and have several different causes. Some triggers are safe, but medical treatment would be needed for some.
There is melanin in the skin, which is the pigment that gives the skin its colour. Having more melanin makes the skin black, although lighter skin results in less of it. Melanin is also responsible for hair and eye color.
Patches with discolored skin are apparent because they vary from the usual skin tone of a person. They can be brighter, darker, red , gray, or blue, or a different color.
If care is desired, it is crucial for individuals with this condition to consider the cause of their discolored skin patches.
This article discusses the common causes of discolored skin patches and outlines which of them need treatment.
What causes discolored skin patches?
Discolored skin patches have many different causes, including:
- skin pigmentation disorders
- skin rashes
- skin infections
- skin cancers
- medical conditions
Below, we look at each of these in more detail.
Birthmarks are discolouration spots that individuals get when they are born. Over time, some birthmark forms disappear, while others can be permanent.
Birthmarks are either pigmented or vascular. Vascular birthmarks are red and arise in the skin because of irregular blood vessels.
Types of vascular birthmark include:
- Strawberry nevus. Also called a hemangioma, this is a common type of vascular birthmark. It appears as a red patch and is most common on the face, scalp, chest, and back. A strawberry nevus does not usually require treatment.
- Salmon patch. Also called a nevus simplex, this flat red or pink patch of skin typically occurs on the neck or forehead. Up to 40 percent of all babies are born with this type of birthmark.
- Port wine stain. This is a noticeable flat red or purple birthmark. Some port wine stains may require treatment, which might include laser treatment or cosmetic camouflage.
Pigmented birthmarks are generally white, brown, blue, or gray. They result from a problem with the melanin in the skin.
Types of pigmented birthmark include:
- Mongolian blue spots. These are blue or gray patches that may be present on the back and buttocks at birth. Babies with darker skin are more likely to have these birthmarks. Mongolian blue spots often fade as the child grows.
- Moles. These are black or brown spots that are usually harmless. However, it is best to see a doctor if a mole changes shape, size, or texture.
- Café-au-lait spot. These appear as light brown skin patches on light skin or black coffee-colored patches on dark skin. Café-au-lait spots are often oval-shaped and may fade as the child grows.
Skin pigmentation disorders
This can mean a skin pigmentation condition if a person has lighter or darker skin patches. Skin pigmentation disorder forms include:
Melasma. This is a widespread skin disorder that commonly affects the facial skin and produces brown patches. It more often affects women than men. Melasma causes can include exposure to the sun and hormonal changes.
Vitiligo. Any part of the body may be affected by this disorder. It causes the melanin-producing cells, known as melanocytes, to stop functioning properly, which results in lighter skin patches. it can also affect the hair color of a person often. the precise cause of vitiligo is unclear, although it may be responsible for animmune system problem.
Hypopigmentation or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is a transient rise or decrease in skin color, such as a blister or burn, after skin trauma.
Albinism. Not enough melanin is developed by individuals with albinism. This adds to the skin , hair, or eyes getting little to no pigment. Albinism is a genetic disorder , which means a person inherits from one or both of their parents a faulty gene.
Patches with discolored skin can also be caused by certain forms of skin rash. These include:
Certain skin infections may also cause discoloration, such as:
- Tinea versicolor. This is a fungal skin infection that can cause patches of skin to become lighter or darker. These patches usually develop slowly and can sometimes merge to form larger patches. Tinea versicolor tends to affect the trunk, neck, and upper arms.
- Ringworm. Also known as tinea, this is a fungal skin infection that causes red or silver ring-shaped patches of skin. These patches may be scaly, dry, or itchy. Ringworm can appear on most parts of the body, including the scalp, groin, feet, hands, and nails.
- Candidiasis of the skin. This is a fungal skin infection that causes red, itchy skin patches. It often occurs in areas where the skin folds, such as the armpits and groin.
In rare cases, skin cancer can cause patches of discoloration. Types of skin cancer include:
- Actinic keratosis. These are dry, scaly, pre-cancerous skin patches. Without treatment, they may progress to squamous cell carcinoma.
- Basal cell carcinoma. These are flesh-colored, pearl-like, pink skin patches or bumps. Basal cell carcinomas are the most common form of skin cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. These are red bumps, sores, or scaly patches, which may heal and then re-open. Squamous cell carcinomas are the second most common type of skin cancer.
- Melanoma. This cancer may develop in existing moles or appear as new dark spots. Melanomas are the most severe form of skin cancer, and early diagnosis and prompt treatment are crucial.
Certain medical conditions, including the following, may cause discolored patches of skin:
- Cyanosis. Insufficient oxygen in the blood can cause the skin and lips to appear blue or purple. Cyanosis that occurs suddenly could be a sign of a problem with the heart, lungs, or airways. This is a medical emergency, and a person should seek immediate medical attention.
- Lupus. This is a complex autoimmune condition that may cause a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks.
Undiagnosed or untreated diabetes can also cause changes in the skin, such as:
- yellow, reddish, or brown patches of skin
- dark, velvety patches of skin
- thick, hard patches of skin
- shin spots
If discolored skin patches appear suddenly and then disappear, there may be a simple explanation.
Causes of temporary patches or blotches of red skin include:
Causes of temporary patches of pale skin include:
- low blood sugar
- cold weather conditions
When to see a doctor
It is safer to see a doctor if a fresh patch of discolored skin develops and does not go away. If a mole changes size, form, or texture, it is often important to seek medical attention.
To diagnose discolored patches of skin, a doctor may ask the individual about:
- pre-existing medical conditions
- when and how quickly the discolored patch of skin appeared
- whether the discolored patch of skin has changed since it first appeared
- any related symptoms
Under the lamp, the doctor can examine the skin affected. Further testing, such as blood checks and a skin biopsy, may also be appropriate for them. The skin biopsy would entail the doctor taking and testing a small sample of skin under a microscope.
Treatment for skin that is discolored depends on the cause.
The doctor will prescribe the right form of treatment for that condition if a person has an underlying health condition. Treating the underlying disorder also resolves some skin complications associated with it.
If skin cancer is the root cause, it is important for the person to undergo care as soon as possible.
Generally, birthmarks and skin pigmentation conditions do not need rehabilitation. However, for aesthetic purposes, certain individuals may prefer to receive care. Laser therapy, chemical peels, and topical creams are among the treatment choices.
Lemon juice or castor oil can also help minimize the appearance of patches of skin that are discolored. Alternatively, to conceal the infected skin, individuals should use makeup.
Not all sources of discolored patches of skin can be avoided.
However, the risk of melasma, sunburn, and skin cancer can be minimized by sun protection. Individuals should shield themselves from the sun through:
- using sunscreen
- staying out of the midday sun
- covering up with loose clothing
There are several potential causes of patches of discolored skin. Certain factors are not dangerous, such as birthmarks, and do not need medication. It is possible that some, such as skin cancer and cyanosis, may need urgent treatment.
If any new discolored patches of skin appear or if current moles change in any way , it is important to see a doctor. This helps make it easier for early intervention and recovery, which also translates to a healthier outlook.