Conditions & Treatments

Skin Pigment Disorders

Skin color is determined by a pigment (melanin) made by specialized cells in the skin (melanocytes). Some disorders which affect skin color are: albinism, melasma, pigment loss after skin damage, and vitiligo.

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

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.

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

Melasma

Dark brown, symmetric patches of pigment on the face. During pregnancy, this is called the mask of pregnancy.

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

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

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Department of Dermatology

  • Dermatology Laser and Cosmetic Center
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Dermatology Laser & Cosmetic Center in Boston offers laser skin resurfacing, laser hair and tattoo removal, skin tightening, dermal fillers, and body contouring. Our center has more than 20 different lasers on-site allowing us to offer personalized services for virtually any skin condition.
  • The Melanoma Center and Pigmented Lesion Center (PLC)
    The Melanoma Center and Pigmented Lesion Center (PLC) at Massachusetts General Hospital is the nation's longest-standing multidisciplinary clinic providing care for patients with—or at risk of developing—cutaneous melanoma
  • The Medical Dermatology Program
    The Medical Dermatology program at Massachusetts General Hospital is a full-service dermatology practice that provides care for all skin, hair and nail conditions.
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

  • Laser Surgery Program
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Laser Surgery Program offers a variety of noninvasive laser treatments for facial rejuvenation that can improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, scars, sun damage, puffy eyes, and broken blood vessels, and treat skin conditions such as acne and rosacea.

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