August 8th, 2011
09:02 AM ET

What are these dry white spots on my child's face?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Question asked by Lee of Maryland:

We just got back from the beach and I noticed that my 6-year-old daughter has some dry white spots on her face. I make sure she always wears sunscreen, and she has not had a sunburn. I've put lotion on her skin but it's not helping. She had eczema when she was younger but that always showed up on her arms and legs and not the face. What could this be?

Expert answer:

Thanks for your question. In the summer, it's common for children and young adults to develop a benign skin condition called pityriasis alba. It consists of multiple lighter round patches of skin on the face and often is a little scaly so that it looks rough or like it's peeling slightly. It is unclear exactly what causes pityriasis alba but it does seem to be more common after sun exposure and in people who have eczema.

Pityriasis alba can last for weeks to years and is more noticeable in the summer when the surrounding skin is more tan than the affected spots. The lighter areas usually occur on the face but can also show up on the neck, shoulders and arms. The majority of people with this skin condition are between 3 and 16 years of age.

It's best to continue using sunscreen when outside to avoid sunburns and try to keep the skin color on the face about the same shade throughout. Moisturizers can help, and sometimes using a mild steroid cream such as hydrocortisone may improve the appearance of the skin as well as any itching that might accompany the spots.

Other skin conditions may also look like what you describe so it's always best to get confirmation from your child's doctor. Good luck.

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.