After tanning many people may be concerned to notice white spots appearing on their skin. While most of the time these white spots are not dangerous, it’s important to understand what you’re dealing with and talk to a doctor if you’re worried. Read up on the common causes of white spots from tanning below.
Next to comparing images to any spots you might worry about – download the SkinVision app to get an instant skin cancer risk assessment.
If tanning in a tanning bed, fungus could be the cause of your white spots. Tanning beds are known to be breeding grounds for fungus due to the fact that they are often humid environments where many bodies have sweat and come in contact with the same surface. Once the tanning lights are off, bacteria can multiply in the darkened, humid space. While it’s not exactly clear how often fungus is contracted from tanning beds and many tanning salons have strict sanitation procedures, it is worth checking out with your doctor if you’re suspicious.
One such fungus that can cause white spots on the skin is called tinea versicolor. Tinea versicolor is a condition that occurs when a natural yeast found on the skin called pityrosporum ovale grows out of control and begins to change the pigmentation of the skin. When this occurs, patches of skin may become lighter or darker. Tinea versicolor can be caused by a variety of factors including hot weather, oily skin, a weakened immune system, hormonal changes and excessive sweating. This condition is more common in adolescents and young adults, frequently occurring in adults when they visit warm and humid climates.
Photo credit: Mayo Foundation
Tinea versicolor can typically be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal medications, which are often effective in removing the discolored patches or spots. If these medications don’t work, it is advised to contact your doctor for further tests to confirm it is tinea versicolor. A doctor may prescribe a topical cream or prescription pills to treat the condition. Many people are able to eliminate the infection entirely, but the skin may remain discolored for some time after, ranging from weeks to months. The condition can sometimes also flare back up, especially if the patient returns to a warm environment or switches hormonal medications.
Sometimes tanning will make pre-existing skin pigmentation conditions more pronounced. Vitiligo is one such condition. It is a disease in which the skin forms white patches. It occurs when melanocyte cells stop producing melanin, either because they die off or simply stop functioning. Causes of the condition are unclear, but it is thought to be an autoimmune disease. It can appear at any age and on any part of the body. Sometimes the white patches will spread throughout the body, while other times they will remain the same size. Vitiligo often first appears as a small, pale spot on the skin that, over time, will develop into a larger patch.
Vitiligo is generally harmless and it is not contagious, but its cosmetic appearance can cause emotional and psychological distress in people who suffer from it. There are several treatments that can help reduce the appearance of vitiligo, including corticosteroid creams, depigmentation treatments and UVA and UVB phototherapy. Some of these treatments come with their own side effects, so it’s important to discuss options with a doctor.
Lichen sclerosus is a rare condition that creates thin patches of white skin. These patches can become more obvious and pronounced with tanning. It is a long-term condition that usually affects the skin of the genitals. It is common in women who have gone through menopause, but men and children can also be affected. Common symptoms include smooth white spots on the skin, white patches that join together and become cracked or sore, itchiness, fragile skin, wrinkly or thickened skin, blisters and pain when having sex or going to the bathroom.
Photo credit: Mayo Foundation
While the cause of lichen sclerosus is unknown, hormonal imbalances are a suspected factor as well as an overactive immune system. It is not contagious and cannot be spread through intercourse. There’s currently no cure to the condition but symptoms can be managed with the use of steroid creams and ointments. When used correctly, the creams usually help ease or alleviate symptoms entirely.
Sometimes the white spots are simply scars that have become more visible after tanning. These areas of the skin have lost their pigmentation due to damage to the tissue. When tanning, the scars stand out from the now darker skin around them.
Dangers of tanning
Besides causing white spots on the skin, tanning can cause other serious concerns for your health; namely, skin cancer. UV radiation is widely considered the number one factor contributing to skin cancer and tanning puts you directly at risk. Find out how you can protect yourself from the sun and UV rays.