Skin Pigment Disorders

What are skin pigment disorders?

Skin color is determined by pigment (melanin) made by specialized cells in the skin called 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 the iris of the eyes. Levels of melanin depend on race and amount of sunlight exposure. Sun exposure increases melanin production in order 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 Characteristics Treatment
Albinism 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 hair, pale skin, and pink eyes. Vision is often affected. There is no cure for albinism. Albinos should avoid sunlight because they lack natural protection from sunlight (melanin).
Pigment loss after skin damage Sometimes following an ulcer, blister, burn, or infection, the skin does not replace some of the pigment in that area. No treatment is necessary. Cosmetics can usually cover the blemish
Vitiligo Smooth, white patches in the skin. Vitiligo is caused by the loss 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 covering smaller patches with long-lasting dyes, light-sensitive drugs, ultraviolet A light therapy, corticosteroid creams, and depigmentation of the remaining skin.

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Dermatology

The Division of Dermatology at Children's National Health System continues to expand services as more families seek our expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the skin, hair, and nails.

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