Hypopigmentation: What you should know

Due to a disease or trauma, hypopigmentation is the loss of skin color. It may impact individuals from birth or grow later in life.

Learn about the various forms of hypopigmentation in this article, including albinism and vitiligo, as well as why they occur.

What is hypopigmentation?

What is hypopigmentation?
Hypopigmentation is when the skin lacks color. It may affect the whole body or only a small area.

It is useful to know how skin usually gets its color to understand hypopigmentation. Melanocytes are melanin-producing pigment cells. The protein that gives the skin, hair, and eyes their color or pigment is melanin.

Depending on sun exposure and biology, the amount of pigment in the skin normally varies. But pigmentation disorders can influence the darkness or lightness of the skin as well.

The lack of skin pigment or color is hypopigmentation. It can occur or be localized all over the body.

There may be several patches or regions on the skin that appear white in localized hypopigmentation. The size of the patches and their form can differ widely.

There is either a reduction of melanocytes in individuals with hypopigmentation or melanin itself.

Hypopigmentation may also result from a drop in the amino acid tyrosine. To produce melanin, melanocytes use tyrosine.

Hypopigmentation may happen in people of all races, but because of the contrast between the natural skin color and the white spots, it may be more apparent in people with darker skin.

Causes

Hypopigmentation is caused by many different factors. As a result of injury or trauma to the skin, the condition most commonly develops.

The skin may all be affected by blisters, burns, and infections and contribute to hypopigmentation. If the procedure is performed wrong, cosmetic skin procedures, such as chemical and laser peeling, can also cause hypopigmentation.

Hypopigmentation can also be caused by some chronic conditions. The condition is typically present from birth in cases where hypopigmentation is due to a chronic condition.

Types

Hypopigmentation forms include:

Albinism

An unusual hereditary disorder is considered to be albinism. About 1 in 20,000 individuals have some form of albinism in the United States, according to the National Association for Albinism and Hypopigmentation.

Albinism occurs because of a gene defect that controls the development of melanin. A reduction of melanin is the result.

Since melanin can not be developed by people with albinism, they have a lack of skin pigmentation. Their skin and hair appear white, and in the irises of their eyes they may have less pigment.

Vitiligo

It is not entirely known the exact cause of vitiligo, although researchers suspect it could be due to an autoimmune disorder that destroys melanin-producing cells.

Vitiligo causes the skin to have smooth, white patches that can appear over the whole body or particular areas, such as the arms or face.

In addition to the skin, white patches may also grow on the inside of the mouth and in the hair.

Pityriasis alba

In children with dark skin, Pityriasis alba most frequently occurs and includes white, slightly raised patches on the forehead.

The cause of alba pityriasis is not known, but eczema can be associated with it.

Photos

  • Albinism.
  • Vitiligo on the skin around the eye, with poliosis causing white eyelashes and eyebrows.
  • Albinism.
  • Vitiligo.
  • Albinism
  • Vitiligo on the feet.
  • Pityriasis alba on a child’s face. Image credit: DermNet New Zealand.
  • Vitiligo on the hands
  • Young boy with albinism, next to young girl with normal skin pigmentation.

Treatment

Hypopigmentation treatment is based on the cause. If it does not cause any bothersome effects, many individuals prefer not to treat hypopigmentation.

There is no remedy for albinism. People with albinism, however, are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. They should be wary of sun damage and use sunscreen at all times.

There is also an increased risk of vision issues for people with albinism, so they should continue to wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when appropriate.

Treatment might not be required in other situations. People who experience hypopigmentation due to an accident, for instance, can find that their skin returns to its normal color without treatment over time.

Hypopigmentation does also not need treatment due to pityriasis alba. The white patches go away on their own in many situations.

An individual can choose to use a topical steroid cream that may help reduce the discoloration of the skin. To minimize dryness and itchiness that may occur with the condition, a moisturizing lotion can also be helpful.

While there is no remedy for vitiligo, white patches on the skin may be minimized by some treatments.

Certain topical corticosteroids and light therapy can be beneficial, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

It can help to add color to the skin by adding corticosteroids, but they may have side effects and can make the skin dry and fragile.

Vitiligo can also be treated with a laser which, for several weeks, is used on the skin two to three times a week. These outcomes are only temporary in certain individuals, and the white patches return over time.

For the treatment of hypopigmentation, a combination procedure using the psoralen drug and light therapy can also be used. Until light therapy is used on the affected area, the drug is applied to the skin or taken by mouth.

It is normally appropriate to repeat this procedure two to three times a week for up to a year. Combined with light therapy, Psoralen seems to be more powerful than light therapy alone.

Outlook

The disorders associated with hypopigmentation do not reduce lifespan, such as albinism and vitiligo. In order to protect their skin and eyes from sun damage, a person with albinism will need to take precautions, but they can lead a normal and safe life otherwise.

While hypopigmentation is not life-threatening, it can lead to emotional problems, such as low self-confidence and loss of self-esteem, which can alter life.

Education, peer reinforcement, and learning about recovery services can decrease social and emotional problems and increase overall outcome.

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