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Skin color - patchy

Dyschromia; Mottling

 

Patchy skin color is areas where the skin color is irregular. Mottling or mottled skin refers to blood vessel changes in the skin that cause a patchy appearance.

Considerations

 

Irregular or patchy discoloration of the skin can be caused by:

  • Changes in melanin, a substance produced in the skin cells that gives skin its color
  • Growth of bacteria or other organisms on the skin
  • Blood vessel (vascular) changes
  • Inflammation due to certain rashes

The following can increase or decrease melanin production:

  • Your genes
  • Heat
  • Injury
  • Exposure to radiation (such as from the sun)
  • Exposure to heavy metals
  • Changes in hormone levels
  • Certain conditions such as vitiligo
  • Certain fungal infections

Exposure to sun or ultraviolet (UV) light, especially after taking a medicine called psoralens, may increase skin color (pigmentation). Increased pigment production is called hyperpigmentation, and can result from certain rashes as well as sun exposure.

Decreased pigment production is called hypopigmentation.

Skin color changes can be their own condition, or they may be caused by other medical conditions or disorders.

How much skin pigmentation you have can help determine which skin diseases you may be more likely to develop. For example, lighter-skinned people are more sensitive to sun exposure and damage. This raises the risk of skin cancers. But even in darker-skinned people, too much sun exposure can lead to skin cancers.

Examples of the most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Generally, skin color changes are cosmetic and do not affect physical health. But, mental stress can occur because of pigment changes. Some pigment changes may be a sign that you are at risk for other medical problems.

 

Causes

 

Causes of pigment changes may include any of the following:

  • Acne
  • Café-au-lait spots    
  • Cuts, scrapes, wounds, insect bites and minor skin infections
  • Erythrasma
  • Melasma (chloasma)
  • Melanoma
  • Moles (nevi), bathing trunk nevi, or giant nevi
  • Mongolian blue spots
  • Pityriasis alba
  • Radiation therapy
  • Rashes
  • Sensitivity to the sun due to medicine reactions or certain drugs
  • Sunburn or suntan
  • Tinea versicolor
  • Unevenly applying sunscreen, leading to areas of burn, tan, and no tan
  • Vitiligo

 

Home Care

 

In some cases, normal skin color returns on its own.

You may use lotions that bleach or lighten the skin to reduce discoloration or to even the skin tone where hyperpigmented areas are large or very noticeable. Check with your skin doctor first about using such products. Follow the instructions on the package about how to use such products.

Selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue), ketoconazole, or tolnaftate (Tinactin) lotion can help treat tinea versicolor, which can appear as hypopigmented patches. Apply as directed to the affected area daily until the discolored patches disappear. Tinea versicolor often returns, even with treatment.

You may use cosmetics or skin dyes to hide skin color changes. Makeup can also help hide mottled skin, but it will not cure the problem.

Avoid too much sun exposure and use sunblock with an SPF of at least 30. Hypopigmented skin sunburns easily, and hyperpigmented skin may get even darker. In darker-skinned people, skin damage may cause permanent hyperpigmentation.

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Contact your doctor if:

  • You have any lasting skin color changes that do not have a known cause
  • You notice a new mole or other growth
  • An existing growth has changed color, size, or appearance

 

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

 

The doctor will carefully examine your skin and ask about your medical history. You will also be asked about your skin symptoms, such as when you first noticed your skin color change, if it started suddenly, and if you had any skin injuries.

Tests that may be done include:

  • Scrapings of skin lesions
  • Skin biopsy
  • Wood lamp (ultraviolet light) examination of the skin

Treatment will depend on the diagnosis of your skin problem.

 

 

References

Patterson JW. Disorders of pigmentation. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 10.

Ubriani RR, Clarke LE, Ming ME. Non-neoplastic disorders of pigmentation. In: Busam KJ, ed. Dermatopathology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 7.

 
  • Acanthosis nigricans - close-up

    Acanthosis nigricans - close-up - illustration

    This photograph demonstrates the hyperpigmented, brownish, velvety lesions of acanthosis nigricans. This skin condition may occur in skin folds such as the axilla (armpit - pictured here), neck, and other areas. In adults, it may be associated with hormonal problems, internal malignancy, obesity, and drugs.

    Acanthosis nigricans - close-up

    illustration

  • Acanthosis nigricans on the hand

    Acanthosis nigricans on the hand - illustration

    This photograph demonstrates brownish, hyperpigmented, velvety plaques overlying the metacarpal and interphalangeal joints of the hands.

    Acanthosis nigricans on the hand

    illustration

  • Neurofibromatosis, giant cafe-au-lait spot

    Neurofibromatosis, giant cafe-au-lait spot - illustration

    People with neurofibromatosis often have more than 6 light brown spots -- cafe-au-lait spots -- larger than 1.5 centimeters. This is a picture of a giant cafe-au-lait spot on a person with neurofibromatosis.

    Neurofibromatosis, giant cafe-au-lait spot

    illustration

  • Vitiligo, drug induced

    Vitiligo, drug induced - illustration

    The white spots on this person's face have resulted from drug-induced vitiligo. Loss of melanin, the primary skin pigment, occasionally occurs as a result of medicines, as is the case with this individual. The typical vitiligo lesion is flat and depigmented, but maintains the normal skin texture.

    Vitiligo, drug induced

    illustration

  • Vitiligo on the face

    Vitiligo on the face - illustration

    This is a picture of vitiligo on the face. Complete loss of melanin, the primary skin pigment, occurs for unknown reasons. The resulting lesions are white in comparison to the surrounding skin. Vitiligo may occur in the same areas on both sides of the face -- symmetrically -- or it may be patchy -- asymmetrical. The typical vitiligo lesion is flat (macular) and depigmented, but maintains the normal skin texture. The dark areas around the eyes are this person's normal skin color.

    Vitiligo on the face

    illustration

  • Cutis marmorata on the leg

    Cutis marmorata on the leg - illustration

    Cutis marmorata is a common phenomenon in newborn infants. It consists of alternating areas of dilated and constricted blood vessels, which gives the skin a red and white marbled appearance. It is most obvious when the skin is cool.

    Cutis marmorata on the leg

    illustration

  • Halo nevus

    Halo nevus - illustration

    A halo nevus occurs when the body develops an immune response to the pigment cells around a nevus. The pigment disappears and the area becomes white. Often in the process, the nevus itself disappears, leaving a circular white spot.

    Halo nevus

    illustration

    • Acanthosis nigricans - close-up

      Acanthosis nigricans - close-up - illustration

      This photograph demonstrates the hyperpigmented, brownish, velvety lesions of acanthosis nigricans. This skin condition may occur in skin folds such as the axilla (armpit - pictured here), neck, and other areas. In adults, it may be associated with hormonal problems, internal malignancy, obesity, and drugs.

      Acanthosis nigricans - close-up

      illustration

    • Acanthosis nigricans on the hand

      Acanthosis nigricans on the hand - illustration

      This photograph demonstrates brownish, hyperpigmented, velvety plaques overlying the metacarpal and interphalangeal joints of the hands.

      Acanthosis nigricans on the hand

      illustration

    • Neurofibromatosis, giant cafe-au-lait spot

      Neurofibromatosis, giant cafe-au-lait spot - illustration

      People with neurofibromatosis often have more than 6 light brown spots -- cafe-au-lait spots -- larger than 1.5 centimeters. This is a picture of a giant cafe-au-lait spot on a person with neurofibromatosis.

      Neurofibromatosis, giant cafe-au-lait spot

      illustration

    • Vitiligo, drug induced

      Vitiligo, drug induced - illustration

      The white spots on this person's face have resulted from drug-induced vitiligo. Loss of melanin, the primary skin pigment, occasionally occurs as a result of medicines, as is the case with this individual. The typical vitiligo lesion is flat and depigmented, but maintains the normal skin texture.

      Vitiligo, drug induced

      illustration

    • Vitiligo on the face

      Vitiligo on the face - illustration

      This is a picture of vitiligo on the face. Complete loss of melanin, the primary skin pigment, occurs for unknown reasons. The resulting lesions are white in comparison to the surrounding skin. Vitiligo may occur in the same areas on both sides of the face -- symmetrically -- or it may be patchy -- asymmetrical. The typical vitiligo lesion is flat (macular) and depigmented, but maintains the normal skin texture. The dark areas around the eyes are this person's normal skin color.

      Vitiligo on the face

      illustration

    • Cutis marmorata on the leg

      Cutis marmorata on the leg - illustration

      Cutis marmorata is a common phenomenon in newborn infants. It consists of alternating areas of dilated and constricted blood vessels, which gives the skin a red and white marbled appearance. It is most obvious when the skin is cool.

      Cutis marmorata on the leg

      illustration

    • Halo nevus

      Halo nevus - illustration

      A halo nevus occurs when the body develops an immune response to the pigment cells around a nevus. The pigment disappears and the area becomes white. Often in the process, the nevus itself disappears, leaving a circular white spot.

      Halo nevus

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Talking to your MD

       

        Self Care

         

          Tests for Skin color - patchy

           

             

            Review Date: 4/29/2016

            Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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