Skin Condition Series, Hypopigmentation

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Pigmentation refers to colouring. Disorders of the skin pigmentation affect the skin colour. A pigment referred to as melanin gives the colour to your skin. Melanin is produced by special cells called melanocytes present in the skin. The production of melanin is affected in case these cells become unhealthy or get damaged. Pigmentation disorders may affect either patches of skin or the entire body. Your skin becomes darker if too much melanin is produced by your body, a condition referred to as hyper-pigmentation of skin. Similarly your skin becomes lighter if too little melanin is produced by your body, a condition referred to as hypo-pigmentation of skin.

What is hypo-pigmentation?

Hypo-pigmentation is the result of too little production of melanin by the body.

What are the symptoms of hypo-pigmentation?

Symptoms of hypo-pigmentation include single or multiple areas of skin that is white or lighter in colour than the surrounding normal skin. Anyone can develop hypo-pigmentation; however, it is more commonly present in individuals with darker skin tones.

What are the causes of hypo-pigmentation?

The causes of hypo-pigmentation include:

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a type of autoimmune disorder that results due to damaged pigment producing cells or melanocytes. It manifests as development of smooth, white patches which are present as blotches on the skin. In some individuals, these patches are present all over the body. The rate and extent of colour loss that may result from vitiligo is not predictable. Hair, eyes and the inside of the mouth may also be affected. Vitiligo affects persons of all types of skin but is more noticeable in persons with darker skin. Vitiligo can begin at any age; however, it most often starts before the age of 20 years.

Signs of vitiligo include:

  • Discolouration of skin.
  • Premature greying or whitening of the hair on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes or beard (usually before you are 35 years of age)
  • Loss of colour of the mucous membranes (the tissues, which are present on the inside of your nose and mouth)
  • Loss of colour or a change in colour of the retina (the innermost layer of the eye)
  • Presence of discoloured patches of skin around the navel, armpits, rectum and genitals.

Albinism

It is a rare inherited disorder that is caused as a result of absence of the melanin producing enzyme. Due to this there is a complete lack of colour in skin, eyes and hair. An abnormal gene is present in albinos that stop the melanocytes from manufacturing melanin.

Pigmentation loss due to damage to skin

In case you have had an infection of the skin, burns, blisters or other type of trauma to the skin, you may develop loss of pigmentation in the area that was affected.

Pityriasis alba

It is a common skin disorder that is characterized by initial development of red, scaly patches. These patches heal by leaving areas of hypo-pigmentation.

Hypo-pigmentation may also be present in leprosy, tinea versicolor and phenylketonuria.

Supplements to help with hypo-pigmentation

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin and is usually found in animal foods such as oily fish, organ meats, and cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin B12 promotes cell division resulting in a healthy immune system. According to a study, abnormally low levels of Vitamin B12, Vitamin C and folic acid are found in a large number of patients suffering from vitiligo. Another study states that prolonged administration of these vitamins was followed by repigmentation without any adverse effects.

Zinc: Zinc is one of the trace elements that is present in almost all cells of the body and acts as a vital co-factor component of many enzymes. Our body is not able to make zinc. Natural sources of zinc are organ meats, red meat, yeast, eggs and whole grains. Zinc is an antioxidant and is used in beauty products due to its effectiveness in maintaining the skin’s health. According to a study, zinc and copper deficiencies have been reported to cause hypo-pigmentation in many animals.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a type of fat soluble vitamin. It can be derived from the sun in the form of Vitamin D3. Dietary sources of this vitamin are cod liver oils, salmon, sardines, sunflower seeds and eggs. Vitamin D helps in cell division and maintains the immune system. According to a clinical report, narrow band UVB phototherapy is an effective treatment for vitiligo.

Fish Oil: There are 3 kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Alpha-linolenic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids decrease pain and swelling, thereby reducing inflammation. Omega oils also have a positive effect on the immune system of the body. Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained by intake of fish oil capsules or by eating fatty fish such as herring, wild salmon or sardines. They are also present in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, walnut and canola oil. According to a study published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal fish oil was effective in the reduction of the size of vitiligo lesions.

Copper: Copper is a metal that is found in trace amounts in the body but it is still considered to be an essential nutrient. Natural foods that contain copper include shellfish, oysters, nuts, lamb, split peas and liver. It is found useful for improvement in pigmentation of hair and skin. According to a study, decreased pigmentation of the skin is one of the major symptoms of dietary deficiency of copper. Another study stated that Copper and zinc deficiencies have induced hypo-pigmentation in various animals.

Pigmentation refers to colouring. Disorders of the skin pigmentation affect the skin colour. Hypo-pigmentation of the skin occurs as a result of too little production of melanin by the body. There are various causes of hypo-pigmentation. Various supplements are available that you can take to relieve symptoms of hypo-pigmentation of skin.

 

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