(See also Overview of Skin Pigment.)
Albinism is a rare hereditary disorder in which little or none of the skin pigment melanin is formed. The skin and eyes, or sometimes just the eyes, are affected.
Albinism is a disorder of skin pigmentation that occurs in people of all ethnicities and throughout the world. It is caused by several rare genetic disorders that, in addition to causing hypopigmentation or depigmention of the skin, also affect the eyes with decreased vision, misalignment of the eyes (strabismus), and involuntary eye movements (nystagmus).
A type of albinism, called ocular albinism, affects the eyes but usually not the skin. Another type of albinism occurs with bleeding disorders. For example, people with Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome have albinism of the skin and eyes, a bleeding disorder, and other medical problems. It is fairly common among people from Puerto Rico, occurring in 1 of 1,800 people.
Albinism is easily recognized by its typical appearance, including white hair, pale or white skin, and pink or pale blue-gray eyes. People's eyes are very sensitive to light and they often try to avoid bright light.
People who have less typical types of albinism may have some color to their skin, their hair may be somewhat red, and/or their eyes may be blue or brown.
Because melanin protects the skin from the sun, people with albinism are very prone to sunburn and skin cancer (especially squamous cell carcinoma). Even a few minutes of bright sunlight can cause serious sunburn.
No treatment reverses albinism. People with the disorder must take steps to prevent sunburn and decrease their risk of skin cancer, including doing the following:
The degree to which clothing, even when it covers the body, protects against UV light varies (see Overview of Sunlight and Skin Damage). Generally, the tighter the weave and the heavier the weight, the more protection a fabric provides. Clothing can also be treated with a substance that temporarily increases its UPF. Ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) clothing has become more comfortable and easier to find at most sporting stores.
Doctors can correct strabismus with a surgical procedure.