Skin Pigment Disorders

What are skin pigment disorders?

Skin color is determined by a pigment (melanin) made by specialized cells in the skin (melanocytes). The amount and type of melanin determines a person's skin color.

What is the function of melanin?

Melanin gives color to the skin, hair, and iris of the eyes. Levels of melanin depend on race and amount of sunlight exposure. Sun exposure increases melanin production to protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet rays. In addition, hormonal changes can affect melanin production.

What are the different types of skin pigment disorders?

Pigment disorder




This rare, inherited disorder is characterized by a total or partial lack of melanin in the skin, compared to the pigmentation of siblings and parents. Albinos (people with albinism) have white or light-colored hair, pale skin, and occasionally, pink eyes.

There is no cure for albinism. Albinos should avoid sunlight because they lack melanin, a natural protection from sunlight.


Dark brown, symmetric patches of pigment on the face. During pregnancy, this is called the mask of pregnancy.

Sunscreens and avoiding sun exposure can prevent melasma from becoming worse. Other treatment may include prescription creams to lighten the patches.

Pigment loss or gain after skin damage

Sometimes, following a rash, ulcer, blister, burn, or infection, the skin does not correctly replace some of the pigment in that area.

No treatment is necessary. Cosmetics can usually cover the blemish.


Smooth, white patches in the skin, vitiligo is caused by the loss of function of pigment producing cells in the skin (melanocytes). The white patches are very sensitive to the sun.

There is no cure for vitiligo. Treatment may include topical corticosteroids or other topical immunomodulators as well as camouflage with make-ups. In more severe, widespread disease, ultraviolet phototherapy and depigmentation of the remaining skin may be attempted.