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A macule is a flat, distinct, discolored area of skin less than 1 centimeter (cm) wide. It doesn’t involve any change in the thickness or texture of the skin. Areas of discoloration that are larger than 1 cm are referred to as patches.

Certain conditions such as vitiligo are characterized by white or lighter macules or patches on the skin.

Although people of all ages can have macules, they mostly affect:

  • babies
  • young children
  • older adults

How are macules identified?

Macules can appear on any part of your body, but they commonly appear on the following:

  • back
  • chest
  • arms
  • face

A macule may be either hypopigmented or hyperpigmented. Hypopigmented macules are lighter than your skin. Hyperpigmented ones are darker and are sometimes referred to as cafe au lait spots.

A birthmark may be considered a macule if it’s small.

A rash may be referred to as a macule if its color is different from the color of your skin. Infections or other diseases can cause this form of macule.

Call your doctor if you start getting new macules or have old macules that become inflamed or itchy, or show some other change. This may be a sign of infection or a dermatological condition.

What causes macules?

Macules can be caused by various conditions that affect the appearance of your skin, resulting in areas of discoloration. Conditions that are likely to cause macules are:

Macules resulting from the latter are called age spots.

What treatment options are available for macules?

Once your doctor diagnoses the cause of your macules, they might be able to prescribe treatment for your condition. There are many different causes of macules, so treatments vary widely. Your macules may not go away, but treating the condition that’s causing them may help prevent further growth of the macules you have. It may also prevent the formation of new macules.

Vitiligo treatments

Macules caused by vitiligo are difficult to treat. Treatment works best early on in the disease. Treatment options for macules caused by vitiligo include:

  • light therapy
  • topical steroids
  • surgery
  • choosing no medical treatment and using cover-ups, like makeup

In mild cases, using a special makeup to cover areas of vitiligo can be helpful. You can buy this makeup at specialty drugstores and department stores.

Depigmenting the surrounding skin is offered to some people, but most patients end up not choosing this option. This treatment removes pigment from the skin around the vitiligo macules and patches.

Birthmark treatment

Birthmark macules usually don’t pose any medical threat to patients. There are some therapies that can reduce the appearance of birthmarks, like lasers, pills, and even surgery.

Skin cancer treatment

Skin cancers can sometimes first appear as macules. If you notice a new macule that resembles a birthmark, or if an old birthmark is growing or changing, you should see a doctor to make sure it isn’t skin cancer.

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Khan
Medically reviewed on: Dec 02, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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