Hypopigmentation is the lack or loss of natural skin color. This is caused by a decreased level of melanin, the substance that is responsible for the pigmentation, or color, of the skin. A depletion of melanocytes, or the cells located on the bottom layer of the skin’s epidermis, causes a decrease in the amino acid, tyrosine. This amino acid is necessary for the production of melanin, or pigment. Without it, or when there is not enough, hypopigmentation occurs.
There are three main types of hypopigmentation, including vitiligo, albinism, and the loss of pigmentation due to skin injury or damage. These are most often permanent, but in some cases they can be treated or even cured. However, treatment depends on the type, severity, and cause of the problem.
Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce pigment are damaged. It is an auto-immune disorder which causes smooth, white or very light colored hypopigmented patches to appear on the skin. There is currently no cure for vitiligo, but several treatments can be used to cover the patches. These include special cosmetics, light treatments, and corticosteroid creams prescribed by a doctor.
Albinism is inherited, and results in the complete lack of melanin. This causes an absence of pigment throughout the body, including the skin, hair, and eyes. People who suffer from albinism are unable to produce melanin, due to an abnormal gene, and have a greater risk for developing skin cancer or sun damage. Wearing sunscreen anytime they are outdoors can help decrease this risk, as well as staying out of the sun for long periods of time.
Pigmentation loss caused by skin damage or injury is the third type of hypopigmentation. Areas of the skin that have been affected by blisters, burns, infection, or other injuries may experience a loss of pigmentation. It may also be caused by aging, or laser resurfacing treatments. This is the only type of hypopigmentation that is not always permanent, and the skin may actually re-pigment over time.
This condition affects Caucasians most often, but can occur in any race. Individuals with the disorder often have very light red or blonde hair, and light blue or gray eyes. However, individuals with albinism will have no pigment in their hair, skin, and eyes, resulting in a very pale appearance, almost white colored hair, and pink skin and eyes.