Melanin deficiency is characterized by a lighter coloration of the skin, which can appear all over the body or just in patches. The causes of the disease are varied and a precise medical history is required to clarify them. In general, however, the lack of melanin is almost always harmless, but it can represent a great psychological burden for those affected.
What is melanin deficiency?
Melanin deficiency, medically called hypomelanosis, is a pigment disorder of the skin that is due to a lack of melanocytes. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Melanin Deficiency.
The melanocytes found in the upper skin, also known as the epidermis, are responsible for the formation of melanin, which on the one hand gives the skin its natural color and on the other hand protects the deeper layers of the skin from harmful UV radiation. The melanocytes are activated either by UV light or by the melanocyte-stimulating hormone, MSH, also called melanotropin, which in both cases results in melanin synthesis and the formation of melanosomes.
If there is a widespread lack of melanin, the skin on the entire body is lighter than usual, and if there is a localized lack of melanin, it shows light spots. If there is no melanin at all, such as in the case of complete albinism, this is referred to as depigmentation.
The causes of a melanin deficiency can be of many different kinds and have not yet been conclusively clarified in detail. The decisive factor, however, is always the number of melanocytes in the epidermis. The fewer melanocytes are present, the less melanin can be produced by the body and the skin appears lighter.
In the case of what is known as vitiligo, a localized lack of melanin, it is assumed today that the melanocytes in the epidermis are destroyed as a result of an autoimmune reaction. Other causes for the destruction of melanocytes, which also appear in the form of patches, can be X-ray examinations or cosmetics. Heat or cold, for example therapeutically induced, such as in cryotherapy, a special form of cold therapy that is used, among other things, for rheumatism, can destroy the melanocytes.
Medications that affect hormonal metabolism, such as birth control pills, can also trigger a lack of melanin. Furthermore, toxins are also possible causes of a melanin deficiency, as well as inflammation of the epidermis, such as psoriasis or neurodermatitis.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
A lack of melanin first manifests itself through the characteristic pigment disorder of the skin. In the affected region, the skin appears unusually light or dark, with the skin areas being sharply demarcated and usually appearing extensively on the face, shoulders, arms or neck. Depending on the type and severity of the deficiency symptoms, the pigment disorders can be very different.
A slight melanin deficiency manifests itself as isolated skin spots, while a severe deficiency can cause extensive skin changes. It is typical of the pigment spots that they do not discolour through exposure to sunlight. Instead, UV radiation quickly leads to reddening of the pigment spots and ultimately to sunburn. If a white spot disease is the cause, the spots increase in size and number over the long term.
The conspicuous skin areas are accompanied by premature graying of the hair, nail changes and occasionally changes in the color of the eyes. If the melanin deficiency is based on albinism, ametropia can occur. There is also an increased sensitivity to sunlight, which manifests itself in recurring sunburns and severe discomfort in the sun.
The risk of skin cancer is greatly increased if there is a lack of melanin. The disease is also often associated with psychological symptoms such as depression or anxiety.
Diagnosis & History
In the case of a melanin deficiency, the focus is primarily on the patient’s comprehensive anamnesis in order to rule out possible hereditary diseases or a melanin deficiency induced by medication or medical treatments.
The entire medical history of the patient can be important in finding the cause of the melanin deficiency. Under certain circumstances, a biopsy of one of the affected parts of the house can reveal something about the background of the melanin deficiency.
The course of the disease is mostly harmless and progresses only slowly. In the case of white spot disease, the spots get larger over the course of life and often also increase in number, but this is no cause for concern when it comes to the skin.
A lack of melanin can lead to some complications. Depending on the cause, a lack of melanin usually makes the skin more sensitive to light. This increases the risk of sunburn and serious skin diseases. A lack of melanin as a result of albinism or vitiligo is associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.
In addition, the eyes are hypersensitive and become ill more frequently in the course of life. A lack of melanin often represents an emotional burden. The frequently occurring spots are regarded by those affected as a cosmetic flaw, which can lead to a decrease in self-esteem, for example. The white spot disease in particular can be stressful for those affected, as the spots enlarge and increase in number over the course of life.
The stress is increased by the accelerated graying of the hair and faster skin aging. Complications can also occur when treating a melanin deficiency. Ampoules and nasal sprays with the active ingredient melanotan are suspected of damaging the cardiovascular system and the digestive tract. Severe skin damage and allergic reactions can also occur. Similar risks emanate from dietary supplements and vitamin preparations, which are often used in the case of a melanin deficiency.
When should you go to the doctor?
People who suffer from pale complexion or white patches on the skin should consult a doctor to determine the cause. A strikingly light skin is an indication of a lack of nutrients in the organism, which, if left untreated, leads to an increase in symptoms. Stains or pigmentation disturbances are signs of an existing irregularity that needs to be examined and treated. They can occur anywhere on the body and are present in a different form in each patient. A doctor’s visit is necessary as soon as the skin changes spread over the body or the affected areas enlarge.
If the affected person suffers from swelling, pain or a high susceptibility to developing sunburn, a doctor should be consulted. A special feature of a lack of melanin is the constant paleness of the pigment spots despite exposure to sunlight. Affected people often complain about a decrease in well-being when staying in the sun. If they are particularly sensitive to sunlight, a doctor is needed to clarify the cause. If, in addition to the physical symptoms, there are also emotional peculiarities, a doctor should be consulted. Behavioral problems, an aggressive appearance or withdrawal from the social environment are considered signs of an existing health problem. A doctor’s visit is necessary so that countermeasures can be initiated.
Treatment & Therapy
The therapy of a melanin deficiency depends on the cause of the same. If the deficiency is caused by medication, the medication must be discontinued and a replacement found. In the case of cosmetics, avoiding the product in the future goes without saying.
If the lack of melanin weighs too heavily on the soul, psychological therapy is advisable. Otherwise, in the case of locally limited melanin deficiency in the form of spots, a purely cosmetic therapy is recommended in order to adjust the spots to the rest of the skin and to strengthen self-esteem again.
Irradiation of the affected skin areas is also often used in vitiligo and other patchy occurrences of melanin deficiency. However, the therapy usually lasts a long time and must be carried out regularly over months.
Authors Russel J. Reiter and Jo Robinson recommend in their book “Melanin” to stimulate the production of melanin in the body. The new weapon against old age and illness” as a dietary supplement, taking 100 milligrams of nicotinamide, 1000 milligrams of calcium and 500 milligrams of magnesium in the evening and 25 to 50 milligrams of vitamin B6 in the morning. However, there are no reliable studies on this.
Outlook & Forecast
The prognosis for melanin deficiency is generally favorable. In most cases, there are no further physical impairments due to the lack of melanoma cells. In everyday life, to improve overall health, greater attention should be paid to certain risk factors such as the influence of sunlight. Otherwise, consequential disruptions are to be expected that will lead to a worsening of the situation.
If the person concerned takes sufficient account of their increased sensitivity to solar radiation, no further irregularities on the physical level are to be expected. Without this behavior, however, changes in the complexion and a deterioration in well-being can occur. If the course of the disease is very unfavorable, without sufficient consideration and protection from sunlight, the risk of developing skin cancer is increased. This represents a potential threat to human life and, if left untreated, will lead to premature death.
In addition, when making a prognosis, it must be taken into account that the lack of melanin leads to optical abnormalities. This can trigger states of emotional stress, since the visual flaw is perceived as unpleasant by many of those affected. Under unfavorable conditions, a mental disorder develops. This must be taken into account when making the prognosis, as it has a significant negative effect on the overall condition of the person concerned.
Especially in the case of depigmentation, those affected are advised to use sun protection products with a high sun protection factor as a preventive measure, since in this case the UV light can penetrate the deeper layers of the skin unhindered and the risk of skin cancer increases accordingly. Visits to the solarium are generally not recommended for any form of melanin deficiency.
Due to the lack of melanin, the skin of those affected usually becomes more sensitive to light, which in aftercare means deliberately staying away from excessive solar radiation. The risk of skin cancer, sunburn and other serious illnesses increases, and over-sensitivity of the eyes should also be counteracted with sufficient protection. Stains also appear on the skin of the sufferers, causing mental disorders and general emotional distress. Patients’ self-esteem drops because the spots are seen as a cosmetic blemish. Follow-up care also includes self-confident handling of the disease.
You can do that yourself
When the harmless white spot disease occurs, a form of melanin deficiency, the affected person should take care to protect the affected parts of the body, especially from the sun. A sunscreen with a high sun protection factor should be used regularly before going outside.
In the severe form of melanin deficiency, albinism, great care must be taken to protect the skin and eyes from the sun. It is best not to go outside when the sun is too hot. Clothing that protects against UV rays is of great importance. Wearing a hat and sunglasses and using sunscreen are also advisable.
The lack of melanin can often be seen in the affected person. This can lead to psychological stress. Because of this, psychological support from a therapist or a psychologist and/or participation in a self-help group for the respective form of the disease are advisable. It can improve the life of the affected person by contacting other affected people or by being accompanied by a trained person. In addition, the development of depression is counteracted. In the case of vitiligo, cosmetic treatment of the affected areas can also lead to an improvement in the patient’s mental state.