Pigmentation

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Skin pigmentation disorders are conditions that cause the skin to appear lighter or darker than normal, or blotchy and discolored. Pigmentation means coloring. Skin pigmentation disorders affect the color of your skin. Your skin gets its color from a pigment called melanin. Special cells in the skin make melanin. When these cells become damaged or unhealthy, it affects melanin production. Some pigmentation disorders affect just patches of skin. Others affect your entire body. If your body makes too much melanin, your skin gets darker. Pregnancy, Addison’s disease, and sun exposure all can make your skin darker.


If your body makes too little melanin, your skin gets lighter. Vitiligo is a condition that causes patches of light skin. Albinism is a genetic condition affecting a person’s skin. A person with albinism may have no color, lighter than normal skin color, or patchy missing skin color. Infections, blisters and burns can also cause lighter skin.

People of all races have skin pigmentation disorders. Some disorders, like albinism (which affects one out of every 17,000 people) are rare. Others, such as age spots, are very common.

Skin pigmentation disorders occur because the body produces either too much or too little melanin, a pigment that creates hair, skin, and eye color. Melanin protects the body by absorbing ultraviolet light.

In hypopigmentation means the body does not produces enough melanin. Albinism, for example, is an inherited condition that causes a lack of pigment. So people with albinism typically have light skin, white or pale yellow hair, and light blue or gray eyes. Another condition called vitiligo, creates smooth, depigmented white spots on the skin. Vitiligo affects nearly 2% of the population, but it strikes people between 10 and 30 years old more often, and is more evident in people with darker skin.

In hyperpigmentation, the body produces too much melanin, causing skin to become darker than usual. Lichen simplex chronicus is a skin disorder with severe itching that causes thick, dark patches of skin to develop. Lamellar ichthyosis (fish scale disease) is an inherited disease that also is characterized by darkened, scaly, dry patches of skin.

Causes and symptoms

Scientists are still studying the reasons why skin pigmentation disorders occur. In some cases, there are tangible causes, such as sun exposure, drug reactions or genetic inheritance. In other cases, it is not as clear. The hypopigmentation spots associated with vitiligo sometimes form where a person has been cut or injured. Research has shown that the light patches associated with vitiligo do not contain melanocytes, the type of skin cells that create melanin. Some scientists believe vitiligo may be caused by an autoimmune disorder. It also has been linked to other conditions such as hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) and Addison’s Disease, which affects the adrenal gland.

Hyperpigmentation can be caused by many factors, from too much sunbathing to drug reactions or poor nutrition. Wounds and scars also can develop darker patches of skin. A psychological syndrome gives people with lichen simplex chronicus to develop a compulsive need to scratch, which causes dark, leathery skin to form. This can lead to permanent scarring and infection if untreated. Scientists believe lamellar ichthyosis is caused by genetics. The mask caused by Melasma may be related to pregnancy hormones, and usually disappears after a woman gives birth. Birthmarks, moles, and aging spots usually are harmless. Some moles, however, can change in size, color, texture, or start bleeding, which could indicate possible skin.[/text]

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