Pigmentation is the coloring of a person's skin. When a person is healthy, his or her skin color will appear "normal". In the case of illness or injury, the person's skin may change color, becoming lighter (hypopigmentation).

Hypopigmentation is characterized specifically as an area of skin becoming lighter than the baseline skin color, but not completely void of pigment. This is not to be confused with depigmentation, which is characterized as the absence of all pigment.  It is caused by melanocyte or melanin depletion, or a decrease in the amino acid tyrosine, which is used by melanocytes to make melanin.  Some common genetic causes include mutations in the tyrosinase gene or OCA2 gene. As melanin pigments tend to be in the skin, eye, and hair, these are the commonly affected areas in those with hypopigmentation.

Hypopigmentation is common and approximately one in twenty have at least one hypopigmented molecule. Hypopigmentation can be upsetting to some, especially those with darker skin whose hypopigmentation marks are seen more visibly. Most causes of hypopigmentation are not serious and can be easily treated.

Hypopigmentation and Your Skin

Hypopigmentation in skin is the result of a reduction in melanin production. Examples of hypopigmentation include:

  • Vitiligo: Vitiligo causes smooth, white patches on the skin. In some people, these patches can appear all over the body. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the pigment-producing cells are damaged. There is no cure for vitiligo, but some people seek treatments, including cosmetic cover-ups, corticosteroid creams, calcineurin inhibitors or ultraviolet light treatments.
  • Albinism: Albinism is a rare inherited disorder caused by the absence of an enzyme that produces melanin. This results in a complete lack of pigmentation in skin, hair, and eyes. Albinos have an abnormal gene that restricts the body from producing melanin. There is no cure for albinism. People with albinism should use a sunscreen at all times because they are much more likely to get sun damage and skin cancer.

Other Causes

A vast majority of  hypopigmentation is often genetic. Which means, it’s possible for acquired conditions to result in temporary and even long-term discoloration.

This includes:

  • Atopic dermatitis. Also known as eczema, this skin condition causes red patches that are extremely itchy. As the skin heals, the patches may turn white.
  • Contact dermatitis. Touching chemicals may lead to this type of eczema and may cause lightened skin.
  • Healed blisters. As blisters heal, the affected skin flattens and may turn darker or lighter in color.
  • Infections of the skin. As your skin heals, lighter pigments may appear in areas affected by the infection.
  • Psoriasis. This autoimmune disorder causes your skin to produce new cells at an accelerated rate. Resulting silver and red patches may eventually heal and look lighter than the rest of your skin.
  • Scars and burns. These can lead to scar tissue that’s lighter than the surrounding skin.  

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