White spots on feet are an aesthetic as well as health concern to most people. They may be localized to one area of the skin or extend to other areas such as ankles, top of feet, soles of feet, heels, and legs. Some cases, the spots will clear on their own, but others require treatment to go away. Read on to find out more.
Causes of White Spots on Feet, Ankles, and Legs
A number of medical conditions can manifest themselves in white spots on feet. Some will be painful, and others painless. The actual appearance in terms of size, shape, and coverage will also vary depending on the underlying cause. You may want to see your GP for a proper diagnosis. Some of the possible causes of white spots on feet are:
1. VitiligoAlso known as nummular dermatitis, vitiligo is one of the likely causes of white patches on feet. This is a skin disorder in which melanocytes, the cells that produce the skin and hair pigment called melanin, malfunction or die off. Normal skin pigmentation is consequently hampered, leading to the characteristic pale white patches.
The patches are most commonly seen the face, neck, hands, and folds of the skin, but they can as well appear on the feet, and indeed any part of the body.
Researchers don’t understand precisely why the melanocytes die or fail to produce melanin, but it is thought to be linked to the following factors:
- Genetics: Vitiligo tends to run in families, which means that you are at a higher risk of suffering from the skin pigmentation disorder if someone in your family tree has it.
- Autoimmune conditions: A specific type of vitiligo known as non-segmental vitiligo has been found to be an autoimmune condition. This means that it occurs when the body’s immune system turns against itself, attacking the melanocytes in the same way it is supposed to attack viruses and bacteria. Seen in 9 out of 10 patients, non-segmental vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo. It is notable for symmetrical white patches on the feet or any other part of the skin.
- Triggers: Stress, sunburn, cuts, and contact with certain industrial chemicals can also mark the onset of vitiligo, leading to white spots on feet or any other part of the body.
How Are Vitiligo Patches Treated?Although the white spots caused by vitiligo won’t go away completely, they can be treated to help them less noticeable. Treatment options vary from skin creams aimed at camouflaging (covering up) the white patches, to phototherapy (light treatment) and medication.
Often, your doctor or dermatologist will combine more than one treatment option to achieve the best results, more so for larger patches. Even then, there is always the chance that the spots will recur. Treatment will also typically not control further skin pigment loss.
2. Certain MedicationsSome medication you are using or recently used could as well be to blame for the white spots on your feet, legs, ankles, and any other parts of the body where you have applied such medication.
Frequent offenders include topical cortisone creams and benzoyl peroxide containing skin care and treatment products. Cortisone and benzoyl peroxide may cause damage to the melanin-producing cells in the skin, melanocytes, leading to loss of skin color in some areas of the skin. The latter can also cause other side-effects such as dry skin and irritation.
The skin-lightening effect of these medications tends to be more apparent in people with darker skin than their lighter counterparts.
3. Skin CancerWhen it comes to skin cancer, the feet are the last place most people would have in mind. This is because the feet are protected from direct sunlight most of the time. It is, nonetheless, possible to get skin cancer of the feet. It is, in fact, a potential cause of white spots on feet, albeit among the least likely.
There are various types of cancer that can appear on the skin, but in the rare cases that cancer of the feet is the underlying condition for the white patches on the feet, a specific type which is known as basal cell carcinoma is usually involved.
Basal cell carcinoma occurs as a result of excessive exposure to the harmful UV radiation of the sun. It can, for example, affect people who spend lots of time outdoors in open shoes, and with no sunscreen slathered on.
Basal cell carcinoma usually manifests itself in pearly white patches (or bumps) which may have a slight discharge or crest. The spots are typically painless and may resemble an open sore. This type of cancer is generally not aggressive, which means that it will hardly spread to other parts of the skin.
Other than sun damage, cancers of the feet may be attributed to factors such as contact with chemicals, viruses, genetics, and chronic inflammation or irritation.
4. Other Possible Causes of White Patches on the Feet include:
- pityriasis alba
- Tinea Versicolor - A fungal infection that manifests in white, brown, or red patches. It is seen most commonly among teens and young adults.
White Patch between ToesIf the patch is more of scaly than it is a skin discoloration (hypopigmentation), you should suspect athlete’s foot. This is a fungal infection that is characterized by symptoms such as skin cracking, peeling and scaling; itching; burning and; sometimes blistering. The fungus responsible for this problem is transmitted from one person to another through contact, or through walking barefoot in infected areas such as locker rooms. Treatment involves the use of antifungal medications.
White Spots on Bottom of FeetWhat if I have white spots on the soles of my feet? Well, vitiligo can occur on any part of the body, including the bottom of feet. It is one likely culprit. Observe keenly though to ensure that what you are seeing is actually white patches of skin as opposed to white bumps, which may be a symptom of plantar warts among other medical conditions discussed here.
SkinSight: Post-Inflammatory Hypopigmentation
ShareCare: How do I know if white patches on my feet are caused by vitiligo?
Southeastern Foot & Ankle: Skin cancers of the feet
WebMD: Athlete’s Foot