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White Bumps on Legs

by Dr. Joe Morales

Having white bumps on legs can be worrisome. Don’t panic though as most of the conditions responsible are harmless and resolve on their own given time.

However, the little bumps may manifest as scaly, raised itchy bumps or dots on your legs. Here’s how to get rid of tiny white bumps on your legs.

Little dots, tiny or small white bumps on legs

Having small white bumps on the legs can be embarrassing especially when you have to wear a bathing suit at the beach. Several skin conditions are associated with such bumps and these include:

Small white bumps on legs that itch

Small white bumps on legs that itch

1. Keratosis pilaris

Keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that shows up as small, rough, scaly painless, white spots on legs. They may sometimes appear as red goose bump-like bumps. The bumps give the skin a characteristic rough feel which is comparable to sandpaper as Medline Plus puts it.

They are usually benign (non-cancerous) and tend to occur on the legs (especially thighs), upper arm, cheeks, and buttocks. Keratosis pilaris occurs when a skin protein called keratin forms hard plugs within hair follicles.

Keratosis pilaris bumps white scaly dots

Keratosis pilaris bumps or white scaly dots

Keratosis pilaris has a hereditary aspect. It is also associated with dry skin and tends to get worse during in winter when humidity levels take a dip.

Treatment of Keratosis Pilaris spots

Keratosis pilaris is non-cancerous and non-contagious and usually resolve on its own, disappearing completely by the age of 30 in most cases. In the meantime, the following home remedies and professional treatment options may help to improve the appearance of the condition especially for patients with aesthetic concerns.

  • Moisturizing lotions helps to soften the skin and the keratin deposits lodged below the skin
  • Exfoliating with topical creams that contain lactic acid, glycolic acid, urea, salicylic acid, tretinoin, or vitamin D as active ingredient(s) keeps the skin moisturized and aids in the sloughing off of the dead skin cells that are responsible for the buildup of keratin. Such creams are however not recommended for use on children.
  • Steroid creams: Your doctor may prescribe topical steroid creams for more severe cases of keratosis pilaris
  • Laser therapy: Laser therapy can also be used to treat some cases of keratosis pilaris especially those characterized by excessive redness and swelling.
  • Run a humidifier: It is also a good idea to invest in a humidifier to ensure adequate levels of moisture in your room

2. Hives

What are the little white spots on legs? This is another name for urticaria which is characterized by raised, painless, flat-topped bumps that can occur anywhere on your skin according to Tiffany Young, MD, a dermatologist.

Hives on lower legs and feet

Hives on lower legs and feet

The white bumps on legs (known as weals or wheals) are usually white or red and each is commonly surrounded by a red area of skin called a flare.

Hives Urticaria usually forms in response to the allergic reaction to some food or external allergens even though not all cases are attributed to allergic responses.

White bumps on legs may increase in size or change in shape within no time. They disappear on their own, usually within 24 hours, only to be replaced by new ones, mostly on new areas of skin which make them known for their migratory tendency. Urticaria bumps are also commonly very itchy. On the legs, urticaria tends to show on the upper thighs.

Treatment for hives spots on legs

Usually, no treatment is required for urticaria bumps but you should seek immediate medical attention if they make breathing difficult. As for the symptoms associated with hives (urticaria), you may want to consider the following interventions:

  • Oral antihistamines e.g. Benadryl to relieve itching
  • Cool baths followed by calamine lotion: also to relieve itching
  • Avoid any foods and external allergen that have been identified as the culprit for the allergic reaction
  • If these measures don’t help, your doctor may prescribe topical steroid creams and/or antileukotriene medication

3. Molluscum contagiosum

If you have some raised, white (or red, or pink) bumps with dimple-like centers, then you are dealing with a condition known as molluscum contagiosum. This condition is caused by a virus called Molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV) or molluscipoxvirus.

The virus thrives in warm, moist environments and overcrowded places and is transmitted in one of the following ways:

  • Through sexual contact
  • Through direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected skin
  • Through contact with contaminated items e.g. toys, beddings, towels, clothing etc
  • From one part of the skin to another

Mollusca (molluscum contagiosum bumps) are usually painless and not at all a bother but they may sometimes get very itchy.

The condition heals away on its own without requiring treatment but if waiting for 6 to 12 months – and sometimes up to 4 years as the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention points out – is out of the question for you, then you may want to consider the following treatment options:

  • Cryotherapy: The mollusca are frozen with liquid nitrogen
  • Curettage: The mollusca are scraped off with a sharp instrument
  • Topical creams with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, cantharidin, or tretinoin as the active ingredient(s)
  • Prescription drugs e.g. cimetidine

4. White pimples or acne

Although rare, acne can occur on your legs as well resulting in the formation of white bumps. As with facial acne, leg acne forms as a result of the accumulation of dead skin cells and oil in a hair follicle, leading to partial or full clogging of the same.

When that happens, blackheads and whiteheads form respectively. Whiteheads present as small white bumps that are typically accompanied by a red rash.

Treatment of acne whiteheads on legs

  • Applying an over-the-counter medicated cream that contains benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur. These compounds help to dry out the oil-filled plugs and kill any bacteria as Medline Plus says
  • Surgical drainage to treat some severe cases of acne especially those with large nodules and cysts
  • Corticosteroid injection
  • You will also want to stay away too much exposure as this can worsen the acne
  • Prescription medications e.g. antibiotics to get rid of bacterial infections and isotretinoin to curb excess production of sebum.

5. After shaving

White bumps on legs after shaving

Razor bumps after shaving

Shaving improperly can also cause little red or white bumps on your legs. After shaving, you can experience razor burn or itchiness, which will develop into razor bumps. Ingrown hair can also form. These can be relieved and gotten rid of with anti-inflammatory medications and some home remedies.

Shaving bumps should, however, go away on their own. If not, they are likely to form scars on your legs. Hydrocortisone cream can be purchased over-the-counter as a quick relief treatment to get rid of white bumps on legs after shaving.

6. Sun tanning

Does tanning cause white bump-like pimples on legs? Reactions from tanning beds and skin damage from sun-tanning can easily cause white spots on legs. It could be a reaction to the sanitizing solution used if you are tanning in booths.

According to LovetoKnow, white scars, dots, bumps or spots from sun tanning could be a result of sensitive skin reacting to exposure to harmful sun rays (UV exposure). They also say that some medication such as birth control can increase the sensitivity of your skin. When you go tanning, you are likely to end up with the white spots on your legs.

7. Infection (pus)

The presence of white pus-filled bumps or dots on your legs is an indication of an underlying infection. Often, people get bumps from shaving and end up with an infection if they do not keep their hygiene to good standards.

If you observe white or yellow bumps with pus or bleeding, it could also be infected insect bites. A bacterial infection can also cause puss bumps that appear as a rash on your legs. Do not try to pop the small pimples on legs. Also, avoid scratching and seek treatment as soon as possible.

Itchy white bumps on feet

“In the last couple weeks, my right leg has been having some terribly itchy white bumps. The bumps are located on the thighs near the groin and are not at all painful. In fact, I had forgotten about them until this itch from hell suddenly developed. Is this a sexually transmitted infection since I am a sexually active teen?” Anonymous

It is possible that this reader is dealing with molluscum contagiosum which is a viral infection that can be transmitted sexually or via direct contact with infected areas of skin or contaminated items.

When sexually transmitted in adults, it tends to occur on the genitals, upper thighs, lower abdomen, or buttocks.

Molluscum contagiosum is not a serious medical issue and heals away on its own without requiring treatment in most cases. You may, however, want to get an over the counter medicated cream with salicylic acid, tretinoin, benzoyl peroxide, or cantharidin.

If symptoms persist, however, talk to your doctor.

White raised bumps on the back of legs

As for raised white bumps on the back of the legs as one of our readers described his symptoms, molluscum contagiosum may be to blame. The pit or dimple-like centers of Mollusca (molluscum contagiosum bumps) is the most notable symptom of this common viral infection.

As we have already mentioned, creams with ingredients such as tretinoin, salicylic acid, cantharidin or benzyl peroxide are effective in ensuring faster healing of Mollusca.

If the bumps are small, like goosebumps, and the skin around them is dry and feels as rough as sandpaper, then you have at hand a case of keratosis pilaris.

Your best course of action is to keep the skin moisturized (applying a good moisturizing lotion such as Eucerin or Lubriderm) and/or to exfoliate with a topical cream containing ingredients such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid or tretinoin.

As for itchy, white (or red) bumps that pop up and disappear in just a short while (less than 24 hours) and keep changing in shape while migrating from one part of the body to another, high chances are that they are hives.

No treatment is usually needed for hives but you may want to take antihistamines and apply calamine lotion to get rid of the itching.

White scaly bumps

“My 13-year-old kid has white scaly bumps on her legs. They seem to be spreading towards the ankle. Have an idea what this could be?” Asha

From what Asha describes, it is likely that her son is suffering from atopic dermatitis which is typically the result of an allergic reaction to some allergen. Corticosteroid creams e.g. Dermacort may help, but it is best to have your doctor or dermatologist evaluate the condition.

Video on white spots, bumps, dots on legs

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