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 skin colours but may be more noticeable in those with black or brown 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.
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
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 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. It does not cause a change to the texture of the skin. Have a look at our page on vitiligo to learn more.
- Halo naevus: A mole with a white ring around it. It can affect any kind of mole.
- Piebaldism: A rare inherited condition which causes patches of white skin and sometimes white hair. Skin texture is not affected.
- Idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis: A harmless condition which causes many small white spots to occur on otherwise unchanged skin.
- Contact leukoderma: Caused when the skin comes into contact with certain chemicals. Leukoderma itself does not change skin texture, although other damage may occur due to chemical exposure.
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.