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 UV (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 is a rare, inherited disorder. It reduces the amount of melanin pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. People with albinism (albinos) have white hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. Their eyes may seem red in different lighting conditions. Many also have vision problems.

There is no cure for albinism. People with this condition should avoid sun damage to the skin and eyes by wearing sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.

Dark brown to gray-brown, symmetric patches of pigment on the face. During pregnancy, this is called the mask of pregnancy. Sun exposure, hormones, and birth control pills are thought to cause melasma.

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

Chemical peels and laser treatment can also be used.

Sometimes, after an ulcer, blister, burn, or infection, the skin does not replace some of the pigment in that area.

No treatment is needed. Makeup can usually cover the blemish.

This causes smooth, white patches on the skin. It is caused by the loss of pigment-producing cells in the skin (melanocytes). It is thought to be an autoimmune disease. The white patches are very sensitive to the sun.

There is no cure. Treatment may include covering smaller patches with long-lasting dyes, light-sensitive medicines, UV light therapy, corticosteroid creams, surgery, and removing the remaining pigment from the skin (depigmentation).

University of Utah Hospital
Clinic 28

50 N. Medical Drive
Salt Lake City, Utah 84132

Midvalley Health Center

243 East 6100 South
Murray, Utah 84107