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Pityriasis alba is a common childhood skin condition involving temporary patches of lighter skin color on the face. It occurs throughout the year, but is most commonly noticed during the summer (when many children have a tan). The spots are lightest in the center, and gradually change to the normal skin color toward the borders. We sometimes see these patches on the neck, upper trunk or arms as well, but the facial discoloration is the most disconcerting to the child and parents. The patches last a few weeks to months, then slowly re-color to match the normal skin tone. (My parents sometimes call these patches "sun spots.")
The cause of pityriasis alba is unknown. Some think it has to do with dry skin or chemicals that come in contact with the skin; it seems more common in children with eczema or dry skin problems. No treatment is necessary, but over the counter 1% hydrocortisone cream twice a day seems to help the patches disappear a little faster. Since there are risks to applying steroid creams such as hydrocortisone to the face, especially for periods of weeks or months, any home treatment with hydrocortisone or any steroid should be discussed with the child's doctor before it is used.
To prevent or reduce recurrence of the patches, keep your child's facial skin well moisturized and of course protected with a good sunscreen at all times.
It is possible to have tinea versicolor lesions on the face - a fungal infection. These patches have a much more distinct border, and would typically also involve the classic areas of the neck, shoulders and upper back.
And pityriasis alba is of course not to be confused with pityriasis rosea.