What is Hypopigmentation?

C. Ausbrooks

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.

Hypopigmentation may occur as a result of skin damage, such as from a sunburn.
Hypopigmentation may occur as a result of skin damage, such as from a sunburn.

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.

Hypopigmentation may occur as the result of aging.
Hypopigmentation may occur as the result of aging.

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.

Individuals with hypopigmentation often have light red hair and blue eyes.
Individuals with hypopigmentation often have light red hair and blue eyes.

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.

A person with vitiligo, one of the main types of hypopigmentation.
A person with vitiligo, one of the main types of hypopigmentation.

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Discussion Comments


These types of conditions sound like they could be really stressful. I would imagine people might stare at a person with facial hypopigmentation quite a lot. It seems like a condition like albinism might be slightly easier to deal with rather than the spotted look that results from vitiligo.

I'm sure life would be easier for people with these conditions if the general public was better informed that the conditions are auto-immune and not something that is contagious from person to person.


@hanley - You are right -- you can't just develop albinism. You can't just "catch" vitiligo either. However people often mistakenly think they can develop vitiligo because the condition can appear at any time and also worsen over time.

Vitiligo in children often begins as a few spots somewhere that isn't noticeable. A person with vitiligo will often not realize they have it until it has developed further. Some patients even choose to treat their skin with lightening chemicals because vitiligo leaves them with a very distinctive spotted look.

Other patients aren't affected as much and choose to go other routes with treatment. I suspect @malko may have vitiligo because the depigmentation caused by vitiligo can also affect the hair.


@Malka - No, you can't just "develop" albinism. it's entirely a genetic and inherited condition -- basically, kind of a slight gene mutation, though if you called people with albinism mutants I can guarantee they'd get mad. Bottom line is, people with albinism look really different, but they're people at heart.

I've never met anybody with your kind of hypopigmentation with the white lock of hair -- that sounds unique, and like it could be very pretty, and you could always dye it to match the rest of your hair if you didn't like it, right? I know personally I would pretend to be Rogue from the X-MEN!


Wow, this is a really interesting conversation! I came here looking up hypopigmentation because I have some hypopigmentation on my face and a bit on my scalp, and I was curious why exactly it happens. The doctor explained that it wasn't anything dangerous, and that my hair growing a white streak where the pigment-free spot is on my head is just a natural genetic quirk. I had no idea it's related to the kind of thing that makes people with albinism get white hair -- that's kind of cool!

The pale spots on my forehead are kind of a trade-off for me; I dislike them, but I like how unique my one white lock of hair makes me to my friends and family, so I guess it's a case of winning some and losing some. I'm really curious now... WiseGEEK says that a form of hypopigmentation like mine can develop when you didn't have it before. It's called vitiligo. What I'm wondering is, can you develop albinism like that when you didn't have it before?


@SkittisH - Yes, her eyes are purple. They actually don't have any color in the irises at all -- the purple shade that people see when they look at them is the color of the blood vessels in the back of her eyes. And yes, when a camera flash goes off, her eyes look brighter-colored -- in fact, in photos they look bright red a lot if she doesn't blink. It's just the blood vessels showing.

Yes, albinism makes you look really unique, but it's not all positives. Having no pigment means you sunburn really easy -- and when you have albinism, treatment for hypopigmentation is pretty limited since it's genetic, so the best you can do is put on lots of sunscreen and try to cover up as much as possible when you go outside.

Also, something about albinism that people don't usually know unless they personally know somebody who has it is that it affects eyesight. Individuals with albinism almost always have such bad eyesight that they are legally blind, and unable to drive a car. They use magnifiers to read things that are right in front of them, and since contact lenses don't do much of anything to help, they almost always end up wearing thick glasses.


@hanley79 - Real life albino people can have purple eyes? That's awesome. Why are they purple, though, if they don't have any color in them at all? Wouldn't they be like, transparent or something? No disrespect meant to you or your friend, I'm just really curious. I think being albino would be awesome -- she's so lucky!


Did you know that individuals with albinism aren't the stereotypical pale white with red eyes that everybody says they are? I have a friend with albinism. She's Caucasian, and we like to laugh about how wrong everybody seems to be about skin hypopigmentation. Her eyes are not red, they're this gorgeous soft purple, and her hair isn't snow white, it's a soft cream color. She's very pale, but not all pasty pale like the movies like to portray people with albinism.

Because individuals with hypopigmentation actually have little or no pigment in their skin, when you see somebody real who has it one of the first things you notice is that it makes their skin kind of translucent. You can see veins easier on the skin of a person with albinism, because there's no pigmentation there to hide them.

I think the stereotypical look for albinism that people show in movies, with the red eyes, stark white skin and snow white hair, is based on how albino animals look. Humans with albinism don't look the same as mice with albinism, people.

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