Pigmentation spots : why do we get them when we age? On possible causes and solutions of hypopigmentation such as vitiligo

Pigmentation spots : why do we get them when we age?

Do you sometimes look down onto your arms and notice they are covered with white spots that resemble freckles in reverse?
Especially when arms get tanned in summer, these white spots tend to stand out more than ever.
This led me to the idea to look up what can be a cause of this weird pigmentation.

Mine turns out to be one called idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (IGH), in other words, an unexplained teardrop-shaped lack of pigmentation, which is apparently very common among most people of over 40 years , but may also happen at a younger age. These white spots appear on the shins, legs, arms, and other sun-exposed areas of the body like the face, neck, and shoulders.

Apparently the body experiences a gradual reduction of melanoyctes and skin cells no longer produce pigment, a similar process that causes the graying of hair. The condition is also increasingly being seen in both sexes and darker skinned individuals with a history of long-term sun exposure, which has lead scientists to believe that excessive sun exposure and sun damage is another cause of these white spots.
They are generally 1 to 3 mm in size and commonly show up on the legs before progressing to other parts of the body.
These white spots are not caused by trauma or infection, nor do they indicate an increased risk of skin cancer.
Hereditary factors may be involved because this skin problem seems to run in families.

IGH is not related to vitiligo, in which melanin-producing cells called melanocytes die or are unable to function properly and no longer form melanin.

Other common causes of skin discolorations are

1 Vitiligo

White patches that develop on many areas of one's skin are usually caused by vitiligo. 
Vitiligo is a condition characterized by the loss of skin pigment called melanin, which is normally produced by cells called melanocytes. Discoloration is caused by the destruction of the melanocytes, but the exact cause is not known.
While researchers have not pinpointed a universal cause, autoimmune disorders seem to be the most prevalent vitiligo cause; however, a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals, as well as exposure to some industrial chemicals, also can cause this disorder.

World-wide about half a percent suffers from vitiligo, up to 2 percent in the USA. The white spots usually appear early, between the first and third decades of life. Men and women are equally affected. Risk factors include:family history of vitiligo, premature graying of hair and auto-immune diseases like Hashimoto's thyroiditis

The symptoms are a rapid loss of skin pigmentation, often interspersed with periods in which the condition does not seem to progress. Cycles of rapid whitish discoloration and stability may follow.
White spots on skin due to vitiligo usually affects the exposed body parts and skin folds (like the armpit), but may also affect areas of previous injury, skin around moles or body openings. It can also be observed on the hair and eyelids.
Once the white spots have developed, the skin may not return to its normal color.

The diagnosis of this skin condition is easily made by a doctor after taking a medical history and physical examination. However, one can neither prevent nor permanently cure vitiligo. The goal of treatment is to improve the physical appearance of the skin using cosmetics to camouflage the white spots, inducing re-pigmentation using corticosteroid treatment or phototherapy, reducing the pigmentation of unaffected area, and by skin grafting.

2. Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor or ptyriasis versicolor is another common and harmless skin condition that affects skin color.
Tinea versicolor is caused by yeast called Malassezia, which normally exist in small numbers on the skin. Certain conditions however, can cause the overgrowth of the yeast, causing the development of white and reddish-brown spots on skin.
Moist, warm, and oily skin encourages yeast overgrowth especially in the upper arms, neck, abdomen, and thighs. It is not a contagious disease.

Conditions that lead to the appearance of white spots on the skin related to tinea versicolor include warm and humid climate, excessive sweating, oily skin, malnutrition, pregnancy, medications such as corticosteroids, or any factor that may weaken the immune system.

Antifungal medications may be used to treat the infection. Shampoo containing selenium sulfide may be applied as a lotion on affected skin before bedtime. This may be rinsed off in the morning. One should consult a dermatologist if symptoms persist after these over-the-counter treatments applied for at least two weeks.

3. Pityriasis Alba

This common skin discoloration affects children and adolescents. This condition is characterized by the appearance of dry, scaly white patches on one's face. These white skin patches are more visible during summer because of tanning in the surrounding skin. In winter, patches become dry and scaly. Raised reddish spots may appear and later turn pale, becoming smooth and flat patches. They are often found on the neck, shoulders, upper arms, and face. The cause is unknown.

4. Malnutrition

White spots on skin may also be due to malnutrition. Deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E can lead to the appearance of white patches on the skin. These skin marks are harmless but they indicate that you need to eat a healthy balanced diet to prevent discoloration of the skin. Consult a doctor for advice regarding taking dietary supplements for healthy skin.

5. Nevus Depigmentosus

This type of skin depigmentation is easily differentiated from vitiligo because the white spots are permanent or stable in nature. The skin is not totally achromatic and hair found on the skin area is often white.

6. Hypopigmentation

Hypopigmentation is defines as loss of color in the skin. This occurs when the melanocytes (pigment-producing cells in the skin) are depleted or when the amino acid called tyrosine decreases. This reduces of the production of skin pigments called melanin. Thus, white spots on skin are due to depletion of melanin in the skin.

Other skin conditions

There are still many more different diseases and disorders with abnormal skin pigmentation. In the list above, we only mentioned the most common causes of hypo-pigmentation. At Wikipedia you will find lots of different types of skin disorders related to hyper- or hypopigmentation.

Build-up of melanin

Melanin is a pigment found in our skin, our hair and the irises of our eyes. It can be found in smaller quantities in the inner ear and brain. Melanin is responsible for absorbing UVA and UVB rays to protect us from their harmful effects. During this process it makes our skin darker leading to the often desirable suntan. To protect our skin and hair from sunlight, you can eat foods nutrients such as vitamin A which increase melanin production to get a more natural tan. Foods which increase melanin production include carrots, tomatoes, melons, fish and dairy.

Other ways to increase melanin

On the market there are many cosmetic products that promote increased levels of melanin in the body in order to improve skin tanning and maintain good hair color.
However, the use of natural products are always more desirable than synthetic products when possible. No doubt the fastest and most effective way to increase melanin is exposure to the sun. However, we must do it safely.

You may also include supplements with beta carotene, tyrosine, selenium and gingko.

Beta carotene is a natural pigment that gives color to many fruits and vegetables. When ingested in supplement form, it gets converted into Vitamin A inside our body, and stimulates growth of skin cells, builds collagen, and helps in maintaining skin elasticity. When taken in high doses through beta carotene supplements, it can even add an orange or golden brown tint to your skin, due to which your skin will look tanned. It can also help you stay tanned in winter.

Selenium is an antioxidant that is highly helpful in removing free radicals from our body. These are highly reactive molecules which become more active after exposure to sun, and cause skin disease and premature aging. Thus, selenium supplements keep your skin protected against free radical damage, thus help you get tanned safely.

Ginkgo biloba is a supplement that can help in a variety of cases, but in this case, is proven to reduce the oxidative stress and improve the immune system response that can result in some cases of vitiligo. Ginkgo biloba is a highly effective treatment method for slow-progressing vitiligo. In a study with vitiligo sufferers, patients taking ginkgo biloba at a rate of 40 mg per day saw a reduction in pigmentation loss, and nearly half of the patients saw marked to complete repigmentation. In the control group, only about 20 percent showed repigmentation.

Vitamin B12 and Folate
This combination of vitamins was shown to be effective in treating vitiligo. Of 100 patients taking vitamin B12 and folate supplements combined with daily sun exposure, 52 saw clear repigmentation of the skin. 6 saw complete repigmentation.

Vitamin D
It is no surprise that the “sun vitamin” is effective at slowing or stopping the progression of vitiligo. Vitamin D is a proven immune system-booster and can help fight a variety of common assailants in the body. The majority of patients that were given D3 supplements of 35,000 IU per day for 6 month showed between 25 and 75 percent repigmentation of the skin.
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