Melanin produces pigmentation in your skin; it provides the tone or color. A lack of melanin in sections of the skin can cause patchy white areas or vitiligo. Albinism and vitiligo involve a lack of pigmentation. Melasma occurs with overproduction of melanin and appears as excess pigmentation.
There are two different forms of albinism. The first is the lack of ability to produce melanin; the second is a defective gene. The condition often presents as a complete lack, or very little color, of the skin hair and eyes. In serious cases of albinism, the hair will be white or slightly pink in color with little or no color in the skin. One form of the condition can only affect a patch of hair towards the front of the head.
In cases where the condition does affect the eyes, sunglasses should be used to prevent vision damage. If you suspect that you have this condition, you should consult a physician. Testing is the only true way to determine the cause and precautions needed.
Vitiligo will most often appear on the hands, chest, and face. It can also be noticeable on the skin on the arms and neck. Areas affected by Vitiligo become white due to the inability of cells to produce melanin. The exact cause of the condition is not known, but it is associated with autoimmune disorders. The condition may be related genetically, it often runs in families.
Some cases may be treated with careful exposure to ultraviolet light. Other treatment options usually involve lightening of the skin areas around the affected area. This makes the lack of color less noticeable. Using cover-up makeup is the easiest method for home treatment. Your physician may also be able to recommend a skin dye.
Melanin is also responsible for the opposite condition of Melasma. In this situation, areas of the skin become darker in patches. Melasma is also known as the 'mask of pregnancy' and is often associated with hormones from pregnancy or medications. The skin areas most affected include the forehead, cheeks, nose, and skin above the upper lip. Cosmetic bleaching lotions will reduce the darker color in many situations. Other treatments include topical steroidal or retinoid applications or facial peels.
In all cases of albinism and vitiligo, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Your skin does not have the ability to protect itself from the sun's rays and serious sunburns can occur. Areas prone to melasma should also be protected to avoid further darkening.