Simply put, skin pigmentation is the color of one’s skin. Skin cells called melanocytes produce melanin, which is the substance that gives skin its color, or pigmentation. The more melanin produced, the darker the skin. Conversely, lighter skin is the result of lower melanin production levels. Melanin also acts as barrier against UV light. Anomalies such as freckles are present in all skin colors and are caused by patches of uneven melanin production. Lentigines, more commonly known as age spots resemble freckles and tend to appear on people over the age of forty. Other skin pigmentation disorders include those caused by varying degrees of hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation are cases in which hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation are symptomatic of different disorder altogether.
Hyperpigmentation is defined as the excess production of melanin resulting in the darkening of skin and/or nails. While sun exposure and hormones can trigger melanocyte activity and produce excess melanin, there are diseases and disorders associated with hyperpigmentation. Any disorder of the skin is frequently considered systemic and as such can be a symptom of a more serious disease. Wrong Diagnosis (www.wrongdiagnosis.com ) lists over 151 causes of hyperpigmentation. Ranging from the common, such as chloasma, or the “mask of pregnancy” triggered by hormonal shifts and changes to the more serious such as Addison’s disease, which is a rare hormonal disorder, hyperpigmentation, can often act as the canary in the mine to alert doctors of other underlying issues.
Hypopigmentation is the loss of skin pigmentation. Vitiligo is the most common hypopigmentation disorder. Marked by patches of lighter or “whited out” skin, it affects people of all races. For obvious reasons, vitiligo is most noticeable in darker skinned people. Unfortunately, there is no known cure. Traditional treatment has focused on slowing down the loss of pigmentation. Albinism is another example of hyperpigmentation and is the result of little or no melanin production. This results in the almost milky white skin and light eyes regardless of race. Because melanin plays a part in optic nerve development, albinism also creates problems with the function of the eyes.
We know that our skin is our largest organ. It makes sense that while skin pigmentation or melanin production generally has no bearing on overall health, a glitch in that production usually is an indication another condition. That condition can be as innocuous as freckles or age spots, or as serious as Addison’s disease or albinism.