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What Is Nevus Depigmentosus?

By Geisha A. Legazpi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nevus depigmentosus, or nevus achromicus, is a skin problem wherein specific areas of the skin appear to be hypopigmented or depigmented. The lesions of this skin disorder appear as light colored or white spots that are not elevated, are inborn or congenital, and are nonprogressive or do not spread or resolve with age. Unlike vitiligo, which is a multifactorial disease with destruction of epidermal melanocytes, and albinism, which results from disorders of melanocyte development or differentiation, nevus depigmentosus involves the decreased production of melanin by melanocytes. It may also be mistaken for a similar-looking skin disorder called nevus anemicus, but it does not redden after the application of friction, unlike nevus anemicus. Nevus depigmentosus cannot be treated, but can be hidden through the appropriate use of cosmetics.

The white or hypopigmented lesions do not increase in size, although an enlargement may be noted, but is often proportional to a child’s growth. They are usually limited to the trunk and the upper arms and legs. The pattern of distribution may appear as leaflike, linear, or segmented. Approximately 19% of people have these lesions at birth.

There is no pattern of inheritance in nevus depigmentosus, so it is not known whether this skin disorder is a dominant or recessive trait. Most newborns with nevus depigmentosus do not have any manifestations until they become infants or toddlers. The main pathology of nevus depigmentosus is a decreased production of melanin, thus localized albinism is not a proper description because albinism involves problems with the development or differentiation of melanocytes, or the melanin-producing cells responsible for human pigmentation.

To diagnose nevus depigmentosus, dermatologists use several criteria such as the presence of hypopigmented or white lesions from birth or early in life, lack of changes in distribution throughout life, lack of sensory disturbance in the affected area, and lack of hyperpigmentation surrounding the affected area. Associated symptoms are very rare, although some patients have shown symptoms such as seizures, mental retardation, sensitive skin, and yellow hair. Patients have reduced melanin and are more prone to sunburn, so it is best for them to always use sunscreen or sunblock products on affected areas. Probably the best way to deal with nevus depigmentosus lesions, particularly among self-conscious individuals, is to use cosmetics to cover affected areas. Excision or removal of the lesion using lasers may be performed only if a small area of the skin is involved, while another treatment option, called melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation (MKTP), has limited success.

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Discussion Comments
By Hawthorne — On Aug 02, 2011

The article says that people who have this kind of skin condition have the slim chance of also developing seizures, mental retardation and so on. I wonder why those particular people get those symptoms and not others?

Is there any direct connection to the amount of markings and these other symptoms? Say you have segmental nevus depigmentosus. Do more segments equal more of a chance of being retarded and having seizures? If not, I wonder if there even is a deciding factor, or if it's just a bad luck roll of the genetic dice.

By malmal — On Aug 01, 2011

@seHiro - Call me crazy, but I think naevus depigmentosus is kind of attractive. And it's not a skin problem if you're born with it and it doesn't hurt you at all! Mottled patterns on the skin occur in animals, why not in human beings?

If I had a kid who had this kind of birthmark and he was worried about bullies, I'd just have him tell everybody he has the human version of leopard spots -- I'll bet it would quickly become something that made him "cool" instead of "weird"!

For the nineteen percent of kids out there with white spots, keep in mind that more often than not, the things kids get teased about later on become what makes them so unique and special as adults once they get more comfortable in their own skins. Literally, in this case!

By seHiro — On Aug 01, 2011

@SkittisH - I've heard of Mongolian Blue Spot before -- a friend of mine when I was a kid had this kind of birthmark.

In my childish view at the time, I always thought that it was a big bruise -- it was a rounded pale blue mark on his knee, so it's not hard to see how I made that association, but it never went away and he said that it didn't hurt.

Birthmarks seem like a tough thing to live with, especially if they give you spots of darker or lighter skin on your face. Nevus depigmentosus in children probably earns those poor kids bullying they wouldn't have had otherwise, which is unfortunate.

In that respect, my buddy's blue birthmark looking like a bruise made it really easy on him, because nobody gave it a second thought!

By SkittisH — On Jul 31, 2011

Wow, very interesting subject for an article. From what I understand from the article and some nevus depigmentosus pictures that I looked up, this condition is basically a white version of birthmarks in larger quantity, and is harmless.

This article and natural curiosity made me want to look up some other birthmark types -- did you know you can get birthmarks that are blue? They are called Mongolian Blue Spot. Strange stuff.

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