Imagine one morning you wake up with an array of unexplained white dots spattered all over your skin. Your gut reaction would probably tell you to panic, but you shouldn't. (Hear me out.) Chances are, the aforementioned spots—which might look like confetti or white freckles—are a result of a harmless condition called Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis (IGH).
The painless white spots, which tend to be flat and 2 to 5 millimeters in size, occur due to an acquired benign leukoderma or localized loss of pigmentation of the skin and most commonly show up on one's shins and forearms. They can appear virtually anywhere, though, especially in areas that get a lot of sun exposure.
While IGH might sound similar to vitiligo, they're actually not related at all. Read on to get the full scoop on this common skin condition and how it can be treated.
What causes IGH?
Unfortunately doctors don't have a straightforward answer for us. In fact, "idiopathic" means that the cause is unknown, while guttate means "resembling teardrops" and hypomelanosis refers to the light color of the affected areas. The macules—a medical term for flat skin spots—are generally small, flat, and either circular or angular in shape. Dermatologists suspect that IGH is an inevitable part of the natural aging process, as the skin loses pigment through a gradual reduction in melanocytes, much like hair loses color as we get older and turns gray or white.
Other theories are that it's caused by sun damage or non-sun related seborrheic keratosis (i.e. chicken skin). What we know for sure: It is not caused by trauma or infection, nor does it indicate an increased risk of skin cancer.
Who's prone to developing IGH?
IGH most commonly affects fair-skinned women in their 40s and older, though that's not to say it can't happen in your 20s or 30s. Like most conditions, you may be more susceptible to acquiring IGH if it runs in your family, as well as if you're a woman since as it disproportionately affects females. If you've been a sun-worshiper your whole life, you're also more likely to get it than those who stay out of the sun or are super-diligent about wearing sunscreen.
When should I see a doctor?
If you begin to notice unexplained white spots, you should visit your dermatologist ASAP to rule out other conditions that have similar characteristics. If it turns out to be IGH, your derm will definitely advise you get better about daily sunscreen use and protective clothing, however, no extreme measures should need to be taken since the spots are benign or non-life-threatening.
Most doctors don’t believe treatment is required since the spots are harmless. That being said, common options include:
Many of the aforementioned treatments, like dermabrasion, lasers, and chemical peels, use therapeutic wounding of the lesions to stimulate melanocytes and thereby add pigment back to the spots. However, some of these therapies, such as chemicals peels, can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, so it's crucial that you consult your dermatologist first to determine what solution will work best for you.
Natural Treatments for IGH
Since IGH is a benign condition, there isn't much research on medical or natural treatments. However, there are a few home remedies that have been recommended by individuals who claim to have seen positive results. Because there is no scientific evidence that these treatments actually work, it's a smart idea to ask your doctor first before trying anything new.
- Fresh ginger: Ginger juice increases blood flow to the depigmented 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 because of their anti-fungal properties, walnuts are packed with anti-aging nutrients such as B vitamins, which are great for the skin, and antioxidants for skin regeneration and elasticity. They also boost circulation, which brings 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.