If you’re dealing with skin that appears lighter or darker than normal or blotchy and discolored, you might have a skin pigmentation disorder. People of all races have skin pigmentation disorders. Some disorders, such as albinism, are very rare. Others, such as age spots, are very common.

  1. What is skin pigmentation disorder?
  2. Skin cells give your skin color by making a substance called melanin. These cells can become damaged and cause a number of different conditions. The skin can either become lighter or darker. Here’s a brief outline of several conditions:
  • Hypopigmentation means the body does not produce enough melanin, causing the skin to become lighter than usual. Or the melanin-producing cells have been injured, and cannot produce melanin.
  • Albinism is characterized by very light skin, white or pale yellow hair, and light blue or gray eyes.
  • Vitiligo creates smooth white spots on the skin. Like albinism, vitiligo is rare and typically strikes people between 10 and 30 years old and is more evident in people with darker skin.
  • Hyperpigmentation means the body produces too much melanin, causing skin to become darker than usual. Or the skin becomes thicker and appears darker.
  • Lichen simplex chronicus is a skin disorder with severe itching that causes thick, dark patches of skin to develop after the skin is rubbed.
  • Lamellar ichthyosis (also called fish scale disease) is an inherited disease that also is characterized by darkened, scaly, dry patches of skin.
  • Melasma is a dark, mask-like discoloration of the face, which might occur during pregnancy or in women on birth control.
  • Moles, freckles, age spots, and birthmarks are also hyperpigmentation.
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can result after inflammation of the skin.
  1. Does skin pigmentation affect your entire body?
  2. Some pigmentation disorders affect just patches of skin, while others can affect your entire body.
  3. What causes this disorder?
  4. It can be caused by a number of things including pregnancy, Addison’s disease, autoimmune disease, genetics, infections, blisters, and also burns and sun exposure.
  5. How is skin discoloration treated?

A: Most skin pigmentation disorders do not affect a person’s health, only their outward appearance.

The treatments vary depending on the diagnosis and can range from prescriptions for photo-sensitizing drugs and ultraviolet light; or antihistamines and topical steroid creams to relieve itching, laser therapy, skin bleaching agents and lightening creams, cosmetic concealers, and skin grafting.

Your dermatologist might advise staying out of the sun. If a mole or birthmark appears suspicious, your dermatologist might surgically remove it to prevent skin cancer.

Q: Is there anything that can be done for prevention?

A: Yes. Wear sunscreen.

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.