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What is Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis?

By Jacob Queen
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is a skin condition that causes small white markings to appear on various parts of the body. These markings look a little bit like freckles in terms of size and distribution. This condition doesn’t actually do any harm, but many people find it cosmetically unpleasant, and some people are willing to undergo surgical procedures to get rid of it. These spots generally develop as people enter middle age, and they often show up more commonly in fair-skinned people, especially women.

For most people, the spots will first appear on the legs, especially areas that are commonly exposed to the sun when wearing shorts. After that, the arms will often develop spots as well. For some people, the condition will continue to spread, and they may even get spots on their faces. As people age, the density of the spots will generally increase.

The cause of this disorder is still somewhat mysterious. Some scientists think the spots are literally a lighter-shaded freckle. Others think they are a degeneration of the skin pigment that occurs in a fashion similar to the process of hair going gray. There is a general consensus that sun exposure increases the number of spots that develop, but this idea is technically still theoretical and generally unproven. Most experts agree that the condition probably has a genetic component, because many sufferers have family members who also develop the disorder.

According to many experts, the best way to deal with idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is to avoid excess sun exposure if possible, but this is not enough to actually stop the spots from developing altogether. Once the condition begins to develop, there are a few ways to treat it, but because the disorder isn’t physically harmful, most people choose to do nothing. For many individuals who are worried about the way the spots make them look, using cosmetics to cover up the densest areas is often sufficient.

People who are insistent about getting rid of the spots have a few options as well. One treatment is called cryotherapy. This approach involves freezing various kinds of skin imperfections, which kills the cells. It is usually used with more serious conditions like skin cancer, and using it for idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is generally an unusual application. Other approaches for dealing with idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis include grafting skin from an unflawed area of the body or using an abrasive surgical tool to remove the spots.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003092 — On Apr 29, 2020

Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis. From what I've read, this happens mostly in African ethnicities with a certain skin tone. My darker skin friends nor my fairer skin friends have the spotted discolorations. So, I am wondering if melanin plays a part.

By anon964122 — On Aug 02, 2014

As a 44 year old dark skinned woman who is experiencing this, I don't think sun exposure is the initial reason. I hardly wore shorts or exposed my body growing up (very modest, plus didn't think I was pretty as a teen) but I had an IGH spot on each calf, several together on my waist (where the band of panties come to) and several together between my breasts (never did bikinis or low V-necks). So I was used to theses discolorations.

When I hit my late 30s, I started seeing a few on my arms and now in my 40s the IGH started to behave "actively." I have now some on my upper front thighs, face and upper shoulder regions, from speck to millimeter sizes. Some are raised and some smooth like regular skin. The dermatologists I've seen are dismissive but I will keep on researching. As a person who doesn't wear foundation makeup, I don't won't to start because of hiding mismatched skin. I am experimenting with Retin-A on just one of my facial spots to see if change will occur.

By anon315450 — On Jan 24, 2013

My father, his aunt and I all have this disorder. I wish there were a way of curing it! It is really a disorder that can lower your self esteem. I have come to the realization that no one is perfect.

By Azuza — On Jul 09, 2011

@starrynight – That’s a nice analogy between idiopathic and idiot. I don't think I'm going to forget what idiopathic means anytime soon!

As far as you personally developing the condition I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis is indeed genetic and no one in your family has it I doubt you will develop it.

By starrynight — On Jul 08, 2011

I find it entertaining that the word idiopathic is so close to the word idiot! When I think of an idiot, I think of someone who just doesn't know. The same goes for an idiopathic condition: it has no known cause.

I've actually never known anyone with this skin disorder. However I have very fair skin so I guess it's possible I could develop this later in life. If I did I think I would opt to just do nothing because the treatment sounds like more trouble than it's worth.

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