Pityriasis alba is a common rash that affects children between the ages of 3-16 years. Nearly 90% of cases occur in children younger than 12. It can also occur in adults, but these cases are very rare.
The condition usually presents as a series of round or oval scaling patches on the face, neck, shoulders and arms. In rare cases, the trunk and legs may also be involved. Most cases, particularly those in very young children, are confined to the face, particularly the area around the lips, chin and cheeks.
The lesions usually appear in groups of anywhere from 4 to 20 or more and are, for the most part, asymptomatic, though some itching may occur. After some time, the lesions fade, leaving patches of hypo pigmented, or faded, skin. This hypo pigmentation will correct itself over time.
What causes pityriasis alba?
The exact cause of this condition is not known, though it has been associated with atopic dermatitis and eczema and is more common among individuals with a tendency to develop those conditions.
Pityriasis alba often becomes more noticeable after sun exposure, particularly during the warmer months, though it can also flare during the winter when the air in most homes is much drier.
Besides heat and humidity, other potential triggers that have been identified include heavily scented detergents or soaps, abrasive clothing, smoke and stress. Whatever the particular trigger, the condition is entirely benign and is not contagious.
Pityriasis alba treatment options
Because this condition does not have any severe symptoms, treatment is generally not necessary. In cases where itching becomes problematic, one percent hydrocortisone cream available over the counter should be applied once to twice a day to the affected areas.
Tacrolimus ointment and pimecrolimus cream have also proven beneficial but these medications can be expensive and so they are usually not recommended. To help lessen the appearance of hypo pigmented patches on the skin, there are several natural remedies that have proven effective.
These including adding cabbage, walnuts and figs to the diet, as well as applying a light moisturizer or Vaseline to the spots before bed every night. The condition often goes away by itself after a few months to a year, though in some limited cases the effects may last for as long as 10 years.
Aside from mild anti-itching agents, the primary response to pityriasis alba is preventative. Using good general skin care methods will help to improve the overall health of the skin. Sun protection is also extremely important as hypo pigmented areas of the skin may not re-pigment adequately once exposed to the sun.
For this reason, protective clothing, hats and the use of a good sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection are also strongly recommended. If your child should develop this condition, it is important to remember that it is not contagious nor is it in any way life-threatening. The more you can remain calm and take a reasoned approach to treatment, the better for both you and your child.