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Hypopigmentation

Information about hypopigmentation, as well as guidance about what support is available from Changing Faces and other organisations.

What is hypopigmentation?

Hypopigmentation is when patches of skin become lighter than the surrounding area. It is caused by reduced levels of melanin – the brown skin pigment – which is linked to conditions including albinism and vitiligo. It can also result from healing following damage by things like infections, eczema, psoriasis, scars and burns.

Hypopigmentation can be generalised (affecting large areas of the body) or localised (affecting a specific area only). It can affect people of all races but may be more noticeable in those with darker skin.

Hypopigmentation may make you feel self-conscious about your appearance. However, there is support available to help you manage the practical and psychological challenges of living with a visible difference or disfigurement. On this page, we look at some of the reasons behind hypopigmentation and explore the ways we can help here at Changing Faces.

Note: Hypopigmentation should not be confused with hyperpigmentation, which is when patches of skin become darker than the surrounding area. View our page on hyperpigmentation.

Having vitiligo has made me stronger. It’s made me more resilient and has allowed me to be more compassionate towards others with a visible difference because I feel like I share something special with a unique community.

Natalie, Changing Faces campaigner who has a form of hypopigmentation called vitiligo

Types and causes of hypopigmentation

Hypopigmentation can be caused by a range of conditions as well as healing following damage to the skin. There are two main types:

  • Generalised hypopigmentation
  • Localised hypopigmentation

Generalised hypopigmentation

A common cause of generalised hypopigmentation is albinism. Albinism is a lifelong genetic condition affecting the production of melanin. People with albinism have reduced levels of melanin or sometimes none at all. They may also have white hair and very pale or pink eyes. Some people also experience eye problems.

Localised hypopigmentation

Localised hypopigmentation may occur for a number of reasons. It often takes the form of white patches – known as leukoderma – which may be caused by:

  • Vitiligo: A long-term condition which causes white patches to appear on the skin. Have a look at our page on vitiligo to learn more.
  • Halo naevus: A mole with a white ring around it.
  • Piebaldism: A rare inherited condition which causes patches of white skin and sometimes white hair.
  • Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis: A harmless condition which causes many small white spots to occur on the skin.
  • Contact leukoderma: Caused when the skin comes into contact with certain chemicals.

Other causes of localised hypopigmentation include inflammatory skin disorders and infections. One example is the fungal infection pityriasis versicolor which leaves small white patches on the skin. Hypopigmentation caused by infection or inflammation usually clears up within a few weeks or months of recovery from the underlying cause.

A smiling woman in red holds skin camouflage brushes

Natalie’s story: “I am very positive about life now”

Changing Faces campaigner Natalie, 36, talks about growing up with a form of hypopigmentation called vitiligo, and how sharing her story has made her more confident.

Read Natalie's story

Is hypopigmentation genetic?

Generalised or localised hypopigmentation may be genetic, depending on the cause. Albinism, for example, is a genetic condition caused by a mutation in the genes which determine how much melanin the body produces. Piebaldism is also a genetic disorder.

However, many of the causes of hypopigmentation are not genetic, including conditions such as idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis. Infections like pityriasis versicolor are caused by bacteria, viruses or fungus.

How is hypopigmentation diagnosed?

Hypopigmentation describes skin which is lighter than it would naturally be. If you have hypopigmentation, your doctor will try to work out the cause. They will look at your symptoms and may carry out tests and investigations if the cause is not easily diagnosed. In some cases, a physical examination may be enough to diagnose the condition. If the cause of your condition is not immediately obvious, your doctor may order a biopsy, where a small sample of tissue is taken for testing.

What hypopigmentation treatment is available?

Again, the course of treatment will depend on the cause of your hypopigmentation. For example, it is not possible to treat hypopigmentation caused by albinism and treatment focuses on managing the impacts of this.

Where possible, hypopigmentation treatment will focus on addressing the underlying cause. For example, if you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be needed to treat the infection.

Hypopigmentation makes you more vulnerable to UV light so you should protect yourself from direct sunlight to avoid damage to the skin.

Hypopigmentation and my appearance

For some people, having a condition which affects your appearance may have an impact on your mental health. You may be more aware of others staring at you or even notice that people ask questions or make comments about your appearance.

I really lacked confidence. My vitiligo was very obvious on my hands so when I went for job interviews I was really conscious of shaking hands. I felt they were staring at my vitiligo and it made me so nervous.

Natalie, Changing Faces campaigner who has a form of hypopigmentation called vitiligo

What hypopigmentation support can we offer?

If you are finding it difficult to cope with the effects of hypopigmentation, support is available to help you.

Changing Faces is able to offer a series of confidential, one-to-one counselling and wellbeing support sessions. During the sessions, our trained wellbeing practitioners provide social, emotional and psychological support to help you manage the impacts of living with a visible difference or disfigurement. If you would like to find out more, you can speak to our Support and Information Line.

We also have a wide variety of self-help resources here on our website which you may find helpful. Our guides cover different aspects of life, from work and social life to managing others’ reactions and the mental health impacts of living with a visible difference. You can see all of our guides on this dedicated section of our site.

You do not need to change your appearance to meet others’ expectations. However, we offer a Skin Camouflage Service as an option for people who would like to reduce the appearance of their visible difference. In skin camouflage, specialist creams and powders are used to match the affected area to the surrounding skin. Our service may help you reduce the visible signs of hypopigmentation.

Other services we offer include:

  • Online Community: An online forum moderated by Changing Faces staff, proving an opportunity to talk about your visible difference with other people.
  • Peer Group Chat Service: An online support group which takes place on Zoom or via a chatroom. You will be one of up to eight participants in a discussion facilitated by a Changing Faces staff-member.
  • Workshops for children and young people and their parents: Find out about techniques, tips and tools for coping with the challenges of growing up with a visible difference or disfigurement.
  • Real stories: Discover stories by other people living with forms of hypopigmentation and other skin conditions.

Please contact our Support and Information Line if you would like to enquire about any of our services. As well as connecting you with our services, the team is able to offer support calls which provide a space for you to talk about the impact of hypopigmentation on your life.

Other organisations

British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) logo

British Association of Dermatologists (BAD)

BAD specialises in the practice, teaching, training and research of dermatology (the branch of medicine dealing with the skin). They offer patient information on different skin conditions, general advice for people with skin conditions and opportunities to take part in research for skin conditions.

British Skin Foundation logo

British Skin Foundation

The British Skin Foundation provides patient information on skin conditions including different forms of hypopigmentation. They raise money for all skin conditions and diseases and offer general advice and education for people with skin conditions.

Outlook logo

Outlook

A national, highly specialist psychological service based at North Bristol NHS Trust, supporting adults (16+) with appearance-related distress. They can provide face-to-face and remote support via NHS Attend AnyWhere. Please speak to your GP or healthcare professional to discuss a referral.

Hands typing on a MacBook keyboard

NHS

Please browse the NHS conditions listing for official guidance on different forms of hypopigmentation. Each page includes information on when to see a GP and advice about treatments available on the NHS. You will also find information about the current impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on NHS services.