Hypopigmentation

Overview

What is hypopigmentation?

Hypopigmentation is a low amount of melanin in your skin. Patches of your skin are lighter in color than your surrounding skin.

Your skin, hair and eyes get their color from a chemical called melanin. When your skin cells don’t make enough melanin, areas of your skin become lighter.

Possible Causes

What causes hypopigmentation?

Injuries to your skin are the most common cause of hypopigmentation, including:

  • Burns.
  • Infections.
  • Blisters.
  • Chemical exposure.

As these injuries heal, scars may develop that are lighter than your surrounding skin.

Rare genetic conditions may cause hypopigmentation over wide areas of your skin. Some of these genetic conditions include:

  • Albinism. Albinism is a genetic disorder in which you’re born with low amounts of melanin. Most people with albinism have very pale skin all over their body, pale eyes and light or white hair.
  • Pityriasis alba. Pityriasis alba is a condition that causes scaly patches on your skin. When the scales go away, hypopigmentation appears in your affected areas.
  • Vitiligo. Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes areas of your skin to turn white. It occurs when your body’s immune system destroys your melanocytes. Melanocytes are the skin cells that produce melanin.

Other hypopigmentation causes include:

  • Tinea versicolor. Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast on your skin.
  • Lichen sclerosus. Lichen sclerosus is a disorder that affects the skin on your genitals or anus.
  • Psoriasis. Psoriasis is a long-lasting (chronic) disorder that causes thick, scaly patches (plaques) on your skin. Hypopigmentation may appear once your plaques go away.
  • Eczema. Eczema is a condition that causes your skin to become dry, discolored, itchy and bumpy. After treatment, your affected areas may have hypopigmentation.

Some skin treatments may also cause hypopigmentation, including:

  • Laser skin resurfacing. During this procedure, your healthcare provider uses lasers to remove skin irregularities from the top layers of your skin. Skin irregularities may include sun damage, wrinkles, acne scars and age spots. Laser skin resurfacing stimulates the growth of new collagen fibers, which results in new, smoother skin. Hypopigmentation may result in your treated areas.
  • Laser hair removal. Laser hair removal uses heat from a laser to destroy your hair follicles. The heat may damage your surrounding skin and cause hypopigmentation.
  • Dermabrasion. During this procedure, a dermatologist or plastic surgeon scrapes away irregularities in the top layers of your skin. If you have skin of color, you’re more likely to have hypopigmentation after dermabrasion.
  • Chemical peels. Chemical peels improve irregularities in your skin. A chemical solution causes the top layers of your skin to peel off, resulting in smoother, brighter skin. If you have skin of color, you have a greater risk of experiencing hypopigmentation after treatment that targets deeper layers of your skin (post-inflammatory hypopigmentation).

Care and Treatment

How is hypopigmentation treated?

Hypopigmentation treatment depends on what caused your skin to lighten.

If you have hypopigmentation from injuries to your skin or skin treatment, you likely won’t need treatment. Your skin cells will start to make melanin again as your affected areas heal. Hypopigmentation will usually go away after a few weeks or months.

If you have pityriasis alba, psoriasis or eczema, hypopigmentation usually goes away on its own without treatment. It may take a few weeks or months.

If hypopigmentation is a symptom of a skin condition, certain medications can treat it. These medications may include corticosteroids and topical calcineurin inhibitors, including tacrolimus ointment and pimecrolimus cream.

Phototherapy is effective if you have hypopigmentation from laser treatments (laser-induced hypopigmentation). These treatments include laser hair removal, laser tattoo removal or laser skin resurfacing. It uses ultraviolet (UV) light from special lamps. Your healthcare provider may use a drug called psoralen combined with ultraviolet A (PUVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB). Studies suggest that phototherapy helps treat laser-induced hypopigmentation in skin of color.

There aren’t any effective treatments for albinism or scars that have hypopigmentation.

Is hypopigmentation permanent?

It depends on what’s causing your hypopigmentation.

If you have albinism or hypopigmentation from scars, it’s permanent.

Hypopigmentation from injuries, treatments and certain skin conditions may go away on its own or go away after treatment.

What can I do at home to treat hypopigmentation?

Certain home remedies may help improve the appearance of your hypopigmentation. These may include:

  • Cosmetics. Makeup, self-tanner or skin dye help make hypopigmentation less visible.
  • Sunscreen. The sun can be especially damaging to areas of your skin with hypopigmentation. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to help protect your affected areas.

Home remedies are safe for most people. However, it’s a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before trying some of these options.

Does vitamin C help hypopigmentation?

Some people believe that vitamin C may help hypopigmentation in damaged skin. Vitamin C helps protect the cells in your body and helps form collagen. Collagen gives structure, strength and elasticity to your skin.

You may take vitamin C as an oral supplement, or you may apply it directly onto your skin. Vitamin C lotions or creams make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so use sunscreen on a daily basis while using a product that contains vitamin C.

When to Call the Doctor

When should hypopigmentation be treated by a healthcare provider?

You’re at a greater risk of developing skin cancer if you have albinism. Your healthcare provider can tell you the best ways to protect and take care of your skin.

See your healthcare provider if you have lichen sclerosus. Having lichen sclerosus increases your chances of developing a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated.

Hypopigmentation can also affect your mental health. It can make you worry about how others look at you. It can also affect how you think about yourself and your behavior. If hypopigmentation causes you stress, anxiety or depression, see your healthcare provider right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can microneedling treat hypopigmentation?

Microneedling may be able to treat hypopigmentation. However, there isn’t enough research to say for sure.

During microneedling, your healthcare provider uses a device that pokes your skin with thin needles. The tiny punctures in your skin stimulate the growth of new collagen and elastin fibers. They may also stimulate your skin cells to make more pigment.

What’s the difference between hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation makes some areas of your skin darker than others. Damaged or unhealthy skin cells produce too much melanin. The melanin can clump, causing that area to appear darker.

What’s the difference between hypopigmentation and vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a disorder that causes your skin to lose its color. Hypopigmentation is a symptom of vitiligo.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Sometimes, your skin cells produce too little pigment. This can create patches of skin that look lighter than your surrounding skin. Hypopigmentation may improve or go away on its own. If a skin condition causes hypopigmentation, medications may help restore color to your skin. If you have a genetic condition, hypopigmentation may be permanent. Be sure to use sunscreen on your light patches of skin. You may feel self-conscious if you have hypopigmentation. See your healthcare provider right away if it affects your mental health.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/27/2022.

References

  • Bolognia JL, Braverman IM. Skin Manifestations of Internal Disease. In: Jameson J, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Edition. McGraw Hill; 2018. Accessed 6/27/2022.
  • DermNet NZ. Pigmentation Disorders. (https://dermnetnz.org/topics/pigmentation-disorders) Accessed 6/27/2022.
  • Hughes KA, Usatine RP, Smith MA. Vitiligo and Hypopigmentation. In: Usatine RP, Smith MA, Mayeaux, Jr. EJ, et al., eds. The Color Atlas and Synopsis of Family Medicine, 3rd Edition. McGraw Hill; 2019. Accessed 6/27/2022.
  • Mysore V, Anitha B, Hosthota A. Successful treatment of laser induced hypopigmentation with narrowband ultraviolet B targeted phototherapy. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3764759/) J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013; 6 (2): 117-119. Accessed 6/27/2022.
  • Rodney IJ, Park J, Hexsel D, et al. Disorders of Hypopigmentation. In: Kelly A, Taylor SC, Lim HW, et al., eds. Taylor and Kelly's Dermatology for Skin of Color, 2nd Edition. McGraw Hill; 2016. Accessed 6/27/2022.
  • The Skin and Nails. In: Suneja M, Szot JF, LeBlond RF, et al., eds. DeGowin’s Diagnostic Examination, 11th Edition. McGraw Hill; 2020. Accessed 6/27/2022.

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