Skin pigment disorders affect the coloration of a person’s skin. The skin can become darker or lighter in various areas of the body. Although most pigmentation disorders aren’t dangerous and don’t cause a person to become physically ill they can cause emotional distress especially when the affected skin is in a visible area such as the face.
Some skin pigment disorders are common; others are not. Anyone of any age or race can be affected. Skin pigment disorders are characterized by a discoloration of the skin. These usually appear as patches or blotches that are lighter or darker in color than the surrounding skin. If the affected area is lighter it indicates that the body is not producing enough melanin whereas if the affected area is darker the body is producing too much melanin. Melanin is the pigment that determines the color of our skin, hair and eyes.
The most common skin pigment disorders are vitiligo, melasma and albinism. We’ll look closer at these disorders later. There are other conditions such as systemic lupus and lichen simplex chronicus disorder. People with systemic lupus may develop a butterfly shaped discoloration on the face that resembles a mask. Lichen chronicus disorder is characterized by the development of thick, dark patches of skin accompanied by severe itching. Although most people don’t realize it, age spots are also a form of skin pigment disorder.
Skin pigment disorders can have many different causes. Excessive sun exposure is one of the most common causes of pigment disorders. Heredity may also play a factor in who develops such a condition. Several conditions such as vitiligo are believed to be autoimmune diseases. Wounds and scars often develop dark patches which cause skin discoloration in the affected area. Drug reactions have also been known to cause skin discoloration. Hormonal changes can affect the production of melanin in the body causing de-pigmentation or increased pigmentation.
Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder in which the melanocytes (the cells responsible for pigment) are destroyed. According to HealthAtoZ.com vitiligo affects nearly 2% of the population. Although the cause of vitiligo is unknown it is believed that it is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the melanocytes. It is likely that heredity may be a factor in the development of the disorder. There is no cure for vitiligo although there are several treatment options available. Treatments include UV light, skin grafts, cosmetics, topical steroids and bleaching among others.
Melasma causes a dark discoloration that appears across the cheeks and bridge of the nose creating a mask like appearance. The brown patches can develop on the forehead and upper lip as well. Although men can be affected melasma primarily affects females. People with dark skin are more likely to be affected than those with fair skin. The cause of melasma is unknown. The condition has been associated with pregnancy, birth control, hormonal changes and sun exposure among other factors. Like vitiligo, there is no cure for melasma but several treatments are available such as bleaching, laser surgery and chemical peels.
Albinism refers to people who have little or no pigmentation in their skin, eyes and hair. The skin and hair are usually very pale and the eyes may be reddish or pink. People with albinism usually suffer from vision problems due to an abnormality of the retina. Albinism is a genetic condition for which there is no cure. People with albinism must use caution when in the sun since their skin can be easily damaged by sun exposure. They should avoid excessive time in the sun and wear a sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and protective clothing when outdoors.
Although there are numerous skin disorders that may exhibit symptoms of discoloration we have looked at the most common conditions. The majority of skin pigment disorders seem to be related to heredity, sun exposure and/or hormonal changes. Treatments may vary according to the specific condition. Regardless of the condition it is important to protect the skin from excess sun exposure. Any change in pigmentation should be reported to your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.