Disorders of pigmentation

J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2010 Mar;8(3):187-201; quiz 201-2. doi: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2009.07137.x. Epub 2009 Sep 24.
[Article in English, German]


Skin color is highly individual and the variations are controlled by numerous genes. The different skin colors result from the size and number of melanosomes and do not mirror the amount of melanocytes. Disorders of pigmentation can result from migration abnormalities of melanocytes from the neural crest to the skin during embryogenesis. In addition, impairment of melanosome transfer to the surrounding keratinocytes, an alteration in melanin synthesis and a defective degradation or removal of melanin may lead to abnormal skin pigmentation. Immunologic or toxic mediated destructions of melanocytes can end in pigmentation disorders. Disorders of pigmentation are classified in hypo- or hyperpigmentation which can occur as a genetic or acquired disease. They can manifest locally or diffuse. Congenital hypopigmentation can be restricted to the skin as in piebaldism or they represent a systemic disease as in Menkes disease or phenylketonuria. Localized hypo- or hyperpigmentation in children may serve as markers for systemic diseases. Ash-leaf hypopigmentation are characteristic for tuberous sclerosis and more than 5 café-au-lait spots suggest neurofibromatosis 1 (von Recklinghausen disease). The most common autoimmune-induced depigmentation is vitiligo. Generalized hyperpigmentation only rarely reflects a primary genetic disorder but is most often from acquired diseases as in Addison disease, secondary hemochromatosis or primary biliary cirrhosis. Treatment of pigmentation disorders are based on a diagnosis which sometimes allow a specific intervention. Cosmetically acceptable results are difficult to obtain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pigmentation Disorders / classification
  • Pigmentation Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Pigmentation Disorders / therapy*