Pigmentation Disorders: Diagnosis and Management

Am Fam Physician. 2017 Dec 15;96(12):797-804.


Pigmentation disorders are commonly diagnosed, evaluated, and treated in primary care practices. Typical hyperpigmentation disorders include postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, melasma, solar lentigines, ephelides (freckles), and café au lait macules. These conditions are generally benign but can be distressing to patients. Appropriate dermatologic history, skin examination, and skin biopsy, when appropriate, can help exclude melanoma and its precursors. In addition to addressing the underlying condition, hyperpigmentation is treated with topical agents, chemical peels, cryotherapy, light or laser therapy, or a combination of these methods. Café au lait macules are treated with surgical excision or laser therapy if treatment is desired. Hypopigmentation disorders include vitiligo, pityriasis alba, tinea versicolor, and postinflammatory hypopigmentation. Treatment of vitiligo depends on the distribution and extent of skin involvement, and includes topical corticosteroids and calcineurin inhibitors, ultraviolet A therapy (with or without psoralens), narrowband ultraviolet B therapy, and cosmetic coverage. Patients with stable, self-limited vitiligo may be candidates for surgical grafting techniques, whereas those with extensive disease may be candidates for depigmentation therapy to make skin tone appear more even. Other hypopigmentation disorders may improve or resolve with treatment of the underlying condition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acanthosis Nigricans / diagnosis
  • Acanthosis Nigricans / therapy
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Cafe-au-Lait Spots / diagnosis
  • Cafe-au-Lait Spots / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hyperpigmentation / diagnosis*
  • Hyperpigmentation / therapy
  • Laser Therapy / methods
  • Nevus / diagnosis
  • Nevus / therapy
  • Pigmentation Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Pigmentation Disorders / surgery
  • Pigmentation Disorders / therapy*
  • Tinea Versicolor / diagnosis
  • Tinea Versicolor / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones