Discolored skin patches: Pictures, causes, and when to see a doctor (2022)

Patches of discolored skin are common and have many different causes, including birthmarks, pigmentation disorders, rashes, and infections. Some causes are harmless, but others will require medical attention.

Skin contains melanin, which is the pigment that gives the skin its color. Having more melanin makes the skin darker, while less of it results in lighter skin. Melanin is also responsible for hair and eye color.

Patches of discolored skin are noticeable because they differ from a person’s normal skin tone. They may be lighter, darker, or a different color, such as red, gray, or blue.

It is important that people with this symptom understand the cause of their discolored skin patches in case treatment is necessary.

This article explores the various causes of discolored skin patches and explains which of them require treatment.

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Discolored skin patches have many different causes, including:

  • birthmarks
  • skin pigmentation disorders
  • skin rashes
  • skin infections
  • skin cancers
  • medical conditions

We look at each one of these in more detail below.

(Video) Causes of discoloured patches on skin?-Dr. Nischal K

Birthmarks

Birthmarks are patches of discoloration that people have when they are born. Some types of birthmark fade over time, while others may be permanent.

Birthmarks are either vascular or pigmented. Vascular birthmarks are red, and they occur due to abnormal blood vessels in the skin.

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

If a person has lighter or darker skin patches, this may signify a skin pigmentation disorder. Type of skin pigmentation disorder include:

Melasma. This is a common skin condition that usually affects facial skin and causes brown patches. It affects women more often than men. Triggers of melasma can include sun exposure and hormonal changes.

Vitiligo. This disease can affect any part of the body. It causes the cells that produce melanin, known as melanocytes, to stop working correctly, which results in patches of lighter skin. Sometimes, it will also change a person’s hair color. The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, but a problem with the immune system may be responsible.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. This is a temporary increase or decrease in skin pigment following skin trauma, such as a blister or burn.

Albinism. People with albinism do not produce enough melanin. This leads to little or no pigment in the skin, hair, or eyes. Albinism is a genetic disorder, meaning that a person inherits a faulty gene from one or both of their parents.

Skin rashes

Some types of skin rash can also cause patches of discolored skin. These include:

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  • Rosacea. This is a chronic skin condition that can cause raised patches of red skin and pus-filled lesions. It typically affects the forehead, cheeks, and nose.
  • Psoriasis. This is a skin condition that causes silvery-red, crusty, flaky patches of skin, which can appear anywhere on the body. Doctors believe that psoriasis may result from a problem with the immune system.
  • Contact dermatitis. This rash happens when the skin reacts to an irritant or allergen.
  • Eczema. Also known as atopic dermatitis, this condition can cause patches of red skin that is also itchy, dry, and cracked. These patches may sometimes ooze and then form a crust. The cause of eczema is unclear, but it can run in families and is more common in people who have asthma, hay fever, and other allergies.

Skin infections

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.

Skin cancers

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.

Medical conditions

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
  • blisters
  • shin spots

Other causes

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:

  • blushing
  • exercising
  • sunburn

Causes of temporary patches of pale skin include:

  • dehydration
  • nausea
  • low blood sugar
  • cold weather conditions

If a new patch of discolored skin appears and does not go away, it is best to see a doctor. It is also important to seek medical attention if a mole changes size, shape, or texture.

(Video) What Are the Causes of Skin Discoloration or Liver Spots? : Health Care Answers

Diagnosis

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

The doctor may examine the affected skin under a lamp. They may also need to carry out further tests, such as blood tests and a skin biopsy. The skin biopsy will involve the doctor taking a small sample of skin and examining it under a microscope.

The treatment for discolored skin depends on the cause.

If a person has an underlying health condition, the doctor will recommend the best course of treatment for that condition. Treating the underlying condition often resolves any associated skin problems.

If the underlying cause is skin cancer, it is vital that the person has treatment as soon as possible.

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Birthmarks and skin pigmentation disorders do not usually require treatment. However, some people may wish to have treatment for cosmetic reasons. Treatment options include laser treatment, chemical peels, and topical creams.

Lemon juice or castor oil may also help to reduce the appearance of discolored skin patches. Alternatively, people can use makeup to camouflage the affected skin.

It is not possible to prevent all causes of discolored patches of skin.

However, sun protection may reduce the risk of melasma, sunburn, and skin cancer. People can protect themselves from the sun by:

  • using sunscreen
  • staying out of the midday sun
  • covering up with loose clothing

There are many possible causes of discolored skin patches. Some causes, such as birthmarks, are not harmful and may not require treatment. Others, such as skin cancer and cyanosis, are likely to require immediate treatment.

(Video) Dark Spots on your Skin | Hormones, Vitamin D, Melasma - Dr. Aruna Prasad

It is essential to see a doctor if any new discolored patches of skin appear or if existing moles change in any way. This helps to make early diagnosis and treatment possible, which often leads to a better outlook.

FAQs

When should you go to the doctor for skin discoloration? ›

If you notice a spot that is a variety of shades of a certain color such as brown, tan, and a little black, that's not a good sign and may be indicative of skin cancer. Diameter: Non-cancerous lesions are usually small in size. If you have a larger one (larger than a pencil head eraser) it may be cancerous.

What does patches of discolored skin mean? ›

Vitiligo is a condition in which the skin loses its pigment cells (melanocytes). This can result in discolored patches in different areas of the body, including the skin, hair and mucous membranes. Vitiligo (vit-ih-LIE-go) is a disease that causes loss of skin color in patches.

Is skin discoloration a concern? ›

While there are many harmless causes of skin discoloration, such as birthmarks, some cases of discolored skin may develop from an underlying medical condition that requires diagnosis and treatment. Discolored skin patches may also commonly develop on certain body parts due to a difference in melanin levels.

What disease causes dark patches on skin? ›

Acanthosis nigricans is a treatable skin condition that causes dark patches on your body. It is often (though not always) a sign of prediabetes or diabetes. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if you have an underlying condition causing AN.

What does early stage melanoma look like? ›

What to look for: Usually, the most obvious warning signs of early stage melanoma are changes to your moles or spots: in size, shape, colour or in how they look or how they feel. Melanoma can also appear as a new mole (more commonly in people aged 50 years or more)2.

When should you get a spot looked at? ›

Redness or new swelling beyond the border of a mole. Color that spreads from the border of a spot into surrounding skin. Itching, pain, or tenderness in an area that doesn't go away or goes away then comes back. Changes in the surface of a mole: oozing, scaliness, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump.

What autoimmune disease causes skin discoloration? ›

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes your skin to lose color, often resulting in white patches on your skin that cover both sides of your body.

Why am I getting discoloration on my skin? ›

Tinea Versicolor

This fungal infection affects your skin's pigmentation, or normal color, causing light or dark patches. It happens when the fungus Malassezia grows out of control. Skin damage, along with heat and humidity, can cause the fungus to overgrow and lead to an infection.

What melasma looks like? ›

Melasma is a common skin disorder. Loosely translated, the word means “black spot.” If you have melasma you're probably experiencing light brown, dark brown and/or blue-gray patches on your skin. They can appear as flat patches or freckle-like spots.

What do liver spots look like? ›

The condition involves the appearance of pale brown to dark brown spots on the skin called solar lentigines, liver spots, or age spots. Age spots are flat, usually oval areas of the skin that have increased pigmentation. In other words, they're darker than the surrounding skin. They may be brown, black, or gray.

How do you treat skin discoloration? ›

Treatment
  1. Hydroquinone, which lightens the skin.
  2. Corticosteroid, which enhances the skin-lightening effects of hydroquinone.
  3. Azelaic acid or kojic acid, which can help lighten melasma.
  4. Procedures, including a chemical peel, microdermabrasion, dermabrasion, laser treatment, or a light-based procedure.

What medications can cause skin discoloration? ›

The main drugs implicated in causing skin pigmentation are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antimalarials, amiodarone, cytotoxic drugs, tetracyclines, heavy metals and psychotropic drugs.

Can diabetes cause skin discoloration? ›

Other conditions can affect anyone, but are particularly common among people with diabetes. These rash-causing conditions can also be a warning sign of pre-diabetes: Acanthosis nigricans (AN): This condition causes dark, velvet-looking bands of discolored skin. It commonly affects people who have overweight/obesity.

Can brown spots be cancerous? ›

These small, gray-brown spots aren't a type of skin cancer. They also don't progress to become skin cancer and don't require any treatment. But if you notice any rapid changes to one of these spots, get it checked out by your doctor right away. When performing a self-check, you'll want to remember the ABCDE rule.

What is skin discoloration called? ›

Also called: Hyperpigmentation, Hypopigmentation.

What are the 5 warning signs of malignant melanoma? ›

The "ABCDE" rule is helpful in remembering the warning signs of melanoma:
  • Asymmetry. The shape of one-half of the mole does not match the other.
  • Border. The edges are ragged, notched, uneven, or blurred.
  • Color. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. ...
  • Diameter. ...
  • Evolving.

Is melanoma flat or raised? ›

Melanomas can start flat but become raised as they grow. 3 If you can feel it, it's likely abnormal. Sometimes in melanoma assessment, the "E" in ABCDE stands for "evolving." That's because melanomas change in size, shape, and color over time.

What can be mistaken for melanoma? ›

Top 5 Conditions Often Mistaken For Skin Cancer
  • Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin condition that is believed to be related to an immune system problem, which causes T cells to attack healthy skin cells by accident. ...
  • Seborrheic Keratoses (Benign tumour) ...
  • Sebaceous hyperplasia. ...
  • Nevus (mole) ...
  • Cherry angioma.

When should I be worried about skin spots? ›

Keep an eye on spots that look different to others on your body, spots that have changed in size, shape, colour or texture, and sores that itch, bleed, or don't heal. If you notice any of these signs, see your doctor and seek their expert opinion.

Is my spot cancerous? ›

Credit: In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm and sometimes turn into ulcers, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly. Non-melanoma skin cancer most often develops on areas of skin regularly exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.

What does a melanoma look like on the skin? ›

Border that is irregular: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin. Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.

Why do I have brown patches on my skin? ›

Age spots are caused by overactive pigment cells. Ultraviolet (UV) light speeds up the production of melanin, a natural pigment that gives skin its color. On skin that has had years of sun exposure, age spots appear when melanin becomes clumped or is produced in high concentrations.

What is lupus of the skin? ›

Cutaneous lupus is a type of lupus. It causes a red, scaly rash on the skin. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack healthy tissues.

What are the brown scaly patches on my skin? ›

A seborrheic keratosis (seb-o-REE-ik ker-uh-TOE-sis) is a common noncancerous (benign) skin growth. People tend to get more of them as they get older. Seborrheic keratoses are usually brown, black or light tan. The growths (lesions) look waxy or scaly and slightly raised.

What does the start of vitiligo look like? ›

Vitiligo often starts as a pale patch of skin that gradually turns completely white. The centre of a patch may be white, with paler skin around it. If there are blood vessels under the skin, the patch may be slightly pink, rather than white. The edges of the patch may be smooth or irregular.

Can liver problems cause melasma? ›

Risk Factors for Developing Melasma

Malnutrition may be a contributing factors because melasma is often found in people with abnormal liver function and vitamin B12 deficiency.

What deficiency causes melasma? ›

Vitamin B12 for Melasma

A severe deficiency of vitamin B12 is called pernicious anemia, a condition associated with hyperpigmentation of the skin - especially in patients with darker skin tones. For this reason, some people believe that a deficiency of vitamin B12 might cause melasma.

What is difference between melasma and hyperpigmentation? ›

Although it also is a type of condition characterized by darker patches of skin, melasma is differentiated from other forms of hyperpigmentation mainly by its cause; rather than just being sun-related, melasma is caused in part by hormonal changes within the body.

What does a cancerous liver spot look like? ›

These are flat, tan-to-dark spots that look similar to freckles. They usually range from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of a dime, but they could be bigger or smaller. These are what most people typically think of as age spots or liver spots.

What does liver damage skin look like? ›

People may have a reddish purple rash of tiny dots or larger splotches, caused by bleeding from small blood vessels in the skin. If the liver function has been impaired for a long time, people may itch all over, and small yellow bumps of fat can be deposited in the skin or eyelids.

Do liver spots appear suddenly? ›

Multiple spots are called lentigines. The condition got its name because the spots can resemble lentils in color. They're also called liver spots or age spots. A lentigo can grow very slowly over many years, or it can appear suddenly.

How does hyperpigmentation look like? ›

Hyperpigmentation can appear as brown, black, gray, red or pink spots or patches. The spots are sometimes called age spots, sun spots or liver spots. The spots can occur in just one area of the body or all over.

What is skin Dyschromia? ›

Dyschromia is a patchy or irregular skin discoloration. This is generally caused by vascular changes in the blood vessels, variations in melanin density or foreign organisms growing within the skin. This is often referred to as mottled or mottling skin. The skin cells produce a pigment called melanin.

What can a dermatologist do for hyperpigmentation? ›

Dermatologists consider prescription-strength hydroquinone, alone or combined with other lighteners, to be the gold standard for fading dark spots because it slows the production of pigment. “It's our go-to,” says Dr.

What do sugar spots look like? ›

Diabetic blisters can occur on the backs of fingers, hands, toes, feet, and sometimes on legs or forearms. These sores look like burn blisters and often occur in people who have diabetic neuropathy. They are sometimes large, but they are painless and have no redness around them.

What are the warning signs of prediabetes? ›

Symptoms
  • Increased thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Increased hunger.
  • Fatigue.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Slow-healing sores.
Mar 17, 2022

Can high blood sugar cause skin rashes? ›

People who have diabetes tend to get skin infections. If you have a skin infection, you'll notice one or more of the following: Hot, swollen skin that is painful. An itchy rash and sometimes tiny blisters, dry scaly skin, or a white discharge that looks like cottage cheese.

How quickly does melanoma spread? ›

How fast does melanoma spread and grow to local lymph nodes and other organs? “Melanoma can grow extremely quickly and can become life-threatening in as little as six weeks,” noted Dr. Duncanson. “If left untreated, melanoma begins to spread, advancing its stage and worsening the prognosis.”

Why am I getting brown spots on my chest? ›

Tinea versicolor (pityriasis versicolor) is a fungal or yeast skin rash. It's caused by too much growth of a certain yeast on the skin. It causes patches on the skin that are lighter or darker than your normal skin color. The patches most often occur on the chest or back.

Can a melanoma appear overnight? ›

Melanomas may appear suddenly and without warning. They are found most frequently on the face and neck, upper back and legs, but can occur anywhere on the body.

Will skin discoloration go away? ›

How long does it take for hyperpigmentation to fade? Once what's causing the dark spots or patches is found and stopped, fading can take time. A spot that is a few shades darker than your natural skin color will usually fade within 6 to 12 months. If the color lies deep in your skin, however, fading can take years.

Where does vitiligo usually start? ›

Vitiligo typically begins on the hands, forearms, feet, and face but can develop on any part of the body, including the mucous membranes (moist lining of the mouth, nose, genital, and rectal areas), the eyes, and inner ears.

When should I be concerned about skin changes? ›

A new, expanding, or changing growth, spot, or bump on the skin. A sore that bleeds and/or doesn't heal after several weeks. A rough or scaly red patch, which might crust or bleed. A wart-like growth.

Who do you see for skin discoloration? ›

Birthmarks and other skin pigmentation (coloration) disorders affect many people. Some of the most common problems are listed below. If you think you have one of these pigmentation abnormalities, be sure to see a physician or dermatologist to receive an official diagnosis.

How do you treat skin discoloration? ›

Treatment
  1. Hydroquinone, which lightens the skin.
  2. Corticosteroid, which enhances the skin-lightening effects of hydroquinone.
  3. Azelaic acid or kojic acid, which can help lighten melasma.
  4. Procedures, including a chemical peel, microdermabrasion, dermabrasion, laser treatment, or a light-based procedure.

How do you fix skin discoloration? ›

Chemical peels, laser therapy, microdermabrasion, or dermabrasion are all options that work similarly to rid skin of hyperpigmentation. These procedures work to gently remove the top layer of your skin where the dark spots lie.

How does melanoma make you feel? ›

hard or swollen lymph nodes. hard lump on your skin. unexplained pain. feeling very tired or unwell.

What does a melanoma spot look like? ›

Border that is irregular: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin. Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.

What color is a melanoma? ›

Melanoma often contains shades of brown, black, or tan, but some can be red or pink, such as the one shown here.

What autoimmune disease causes skin discoloration? ›

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes your skin to lose color, often resulting in white patches on your skin that cover both sides of your body.

What melasma looks like? ›

Melasma is a common skin disorder. Loosely translated, the word means “black spot.” If you have melasma you're probably experiencing light brown, dark brown and/or blue-gray patches on your skin. They can appear as flat patches or freckle-like spots.

What do liver spots look like? ›

The condition involves the appearance of pale brown to dark brown spots on the skin called solar lentigines, liver spots, or age spots. Age spots are flat, usually oval areas of the skin that have increased pigmentation. In other words, they're darker than the surrounding skin. They may be brown, black, or gray.

How does hyperpigmentation look like? ›

Hyperpigmentation can appear as brown, black, gray, red or pink spots or patches. The spots are sometimes called age spots, sun spots or liver spots. The spots can occur in just one area of the body or all over.

Videos

1. What causes white spots on skin which require investigations for confirmation? - Dr. Nischal K
(Doctors' Circle World's Largest Health Platform)
2. Skin Cancer Screening | Symptoms, Types & Warning Signs
(U.S. Dermatology Partners)
3. How to tell if a rash needs medical attention
(American Academy of Dermatology)
4. What Causes Dark Spots On Skin?
(Dr. Usama Syed)
5. Seborrheic Keratosis (“Age Spots”) | Risk Factors, Causes, Skin Lesions, Diagnosis, Treatment
(JJ Medicine)
6. Skin cancer education
(University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS FT)

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