Pigmentation of the Skin
Skin pigmentation disorders cause the skin to appear lighter or darker than normal, either in certain areas of the body or the entire body as a whole. They can cause permanent or temporary disfigurement. Such diseases are typically non life-threatening.
Melanin and Skin Pigmentation
Skin pigmentation refers to the coloring of the skin. Melanin is the substance that produces hair, eye and skin color called skin pigmentation. It also protects the body from absorbing ultraviolet light from the sun. When too much or too little melanin is produced by the body, skin pigmentation disorders develop. Hyperpigmentation occurs when the body is producing too much melanin and hypopigmentation, when it is producing too little melanin. Skin pigmentation disorders can develop due to several factors. However, in some cases, the exact causes are not clear.
Hyperpigmentation can be caused by excessive exposure to the sun, scarring from injuries, adverse reaction to drugs, poor nutrition, aging or genetic heritage. Excessive scratching due to a psychological syndrome called lichen simplex chronicus can cause dark patches of skin and permanent scars to develop among its sufferers. Melasma (or chloasma) is a form of hyperpigmentation that can occur among pregnant women, and even some men. Brown patches of skin on the face and other parts of the body characterize melasma. Lamellar ichthyosis is an autosomal recessive disorder that causes scaling. It can cause permanent disfigurement and psychological stress.
Hypopigmentation can be caused by various factors as well. Albinism is an inherited skin pigmentation disorder characterized by the absence of a melanin-producing enzyme causing those who have it to have light skin, hair and eyes. Vitiligo — characterized by smooth, white patches on the skin — is an autoimmune disorder which damages the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. It can also develop from cuts or injuries. Pigmentation loss can be caused by a skin infection, blisters, burns or other skin trauma. In most cases, pigmentation loss is temporary.
Skin Pigmentation Diagnosis
Although skin pigmentation disorders are easy enough to see, diagnostic tests to confirm them vary from one disorder to another. Most hyperpigmentation disorders can be determined by looking at a person’s appearance. Albinism and vitiligo are readily observable, but sufferers may need blood and eye exams to confirm diagnosis. However, for diseases like lichen simplex chronicus, psychological testing is required. Skin cancer is diagnosed by doing a biopsy or removing part of the infected area and observing it under lab conditions.
Treatment for skin pigmentation disorders vary depending on the specific type of disorder. Albinism and vitiligo are permanent disorders and have no cure. However, people with albinism and vitiligo can reduce the negative effects of such diseases by using sunscreen among those with albinism, and cosmetic cover-ups, creams or ultraviolet treatments among vitiligo sufferers. Hyperpigmentation can be treated by using topical whitening or bleaching creams, undergoing hydroxyl peels, hydroquinone peels, laser resurfacing, or intense pulsed light treatment.
Skin pigmentation disorders range can be temporary or permanent. The treatment required of such diseases can range from simple application of creams to more specialized treatments involving the application of dermatological technology. In some cases where disfigurement is permanent, psychological therapy may be required.