During the winter, skin can become dry due to environmental factors including cold, dry weather and forced air heating. You may notice that the skin on you legs and arms becomes white, dry and itchy. If this does not describe your symptoms, there are several other causes that might be the culprit. If you are unsure what type of skin problem you have, consult your health care provider who will be able to identify the cause and recommend the best treatment for you.
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There are several factors that can contribute to white itchy skin. The location of your symptoms can help determine the cause. Common benign, dry skin problems can give your skin a white or light gray appearance and can be treated with over-the-counter and prescription moisturizing products. However, if your symptoms are due to a fungus, bacterial infection or other causes, you will need professional help to mange your skin condition.
White, itchy skin patches may be caused by a fungal condition called tinea versicolor, also known as pityriasis versicolor. MayoClinic.com reports that this is a common skin condition that usually affects your back, chest, neck and upper arms. In tinea versicolor, a common skin fungus interferes with the production of melanin, which affects the pigmentation or color of your skin. If you have this infection, you will have white patches where the fungus is active. Tinea versicolor can be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal products. However, it tends to reoccur during warm, humid weather. If you find that you are suffering recurrences of this condition, see your health care provider. You may benefit from an oral prescription medication that is more effective in killing the fungus.
Psoriasis, a common skin condition, can cause white, itchy areas, generally on your knees or elbows. It can also affect your scalp, mouth, palms of your hands and soles of your feet. Your skin becomes thickened with scale-like patches. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, that usually occurs between 10 and 45 years of age and tends to run families, reports the American Academy of Family Physicians. If you have psoriasis, the symptoms can go away completely, only to flare up again. Some conditions that can cause a flare include stress, infection, medications, skin irritation, smoking and cold weather. If you believe you might have psoriasis, see your health care provider, because you may need prescription medications to help clear it up. Things you can do at home include moisturizing your skin, using special shampoos if it is on your scalp and exposing your affected skin to sunlight. However, check with your health care provider to determine how long you can stay in the sun without sunscreen. Avoid sunburn -- it can make psoriasis worse.
Lichen sclerosus is a fairly uncommon skin disorder that can affect any area of your skin and can disappear without treatment. Doctors are not sure what causes this problem, but they know it is more common in postmenopausal women. The itchy, white patches are usually found on the genitals or around the anus and can affect men and children as well. If lichen sclerosus is affecting the skin around your genital area, or you have a more serious case on any other skin site, you will need treatment from your health care provider. Untreated, lichen sclerosus can cause tearing of your skin, bleeding, blisters and skin ulcers which lead to scarring. Your doctor may recommend treatment with sex hormones, ultraviolet light and medications that affect your immune system such as Elidel and Protopic.
If you have atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, you are likely to have white and red patches of itchy skin on your arms and behind your knees. Eczema is chronic, often beginning in childhood, but it can affect you at any age. Eczema may be the result of dry, irritated skin, but it also likely has an autoimmune component. If you have eczema, you may suffer from asthma and allergies as well. It tends to run in families and can be treated with both over-the-counter and prescription skin moisturizers and steroid creams. If your condition is severe, consult your health care provider. You may need prescription medications to help calm your symptoms and reduce your chance of getting a secondary skin infection.