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. Pigment disorders on the skin occur when there are abnormalities in melanin.

For example, in vitiligo, the skin turns white (becomes de-pigmented) because there are no melanocytes in the skin in that area. In the case of melasma, the melanocytes have been stimulated, often by hormones, to produce more pigment in specific areas of the skin.

Types of Pigment Disorders

  • Albinism
  • Melasma
  • Pigment loss after skin damage
  • Vitiligo

Treatment for Skin Pigment Disorders

The treatment of pigment disorders usually involves reversing or minimizing the melanoma abnormalities that are the source of the problem. For vitiligo we may stimulate re-growth of melanocytes (melanin cells) or for melasma decrease pigment production.

There are diverse therapies from light or laser therapies to bleaching creams to treat pigment disorders. Our specialists can help you determine what treatment will work best for your condition and needs.

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





Pigment loss after skin damage


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.

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

Dark brown, symmetric patches of pigment on the face. During pregnancy, this is called the mask of pregnancy. Sun exposure, hormones and the oral contraceptive pill are thought to cause melasma.

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

Chemical peels and laser can also be used.

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.

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, in addition to ultraviolet light therapy, corticosteroid creams, and depigmentation of the remaining skin.

Kristin M. Leiferman, M.D.

Kristin M. Leiferman, M.D. is a Dermatologist and Immunodermatologist with expertise in immune-mediated skin diseases, especially diagnosis and management of allergic skin diseases and diagnosis of autoimmune blistering diseases that affect skin and mucous membranes. She has board certification in Dermatology and Dermatological Immunology/Diagnosti... Read More

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