Give Now

A Moment of Science

Albinism

Although we often describe skin color with terms such as black and white, the truth is that skin comes in a wide variety of subtle shades. Skin is never purely white or black, but rather various shades of pink and brown depending on the amount of pigment in the skin.

But there are some people whose lack of pigment results in little to no coloring in their skin, hair, and eyes. This genetically inherited condition is called albinism, and people with this condition are called albinos. An albino of any ethnic or racial background typically has very white skin, hair, and light colored eyes. Their pigment-free skin leaves albinos very sensitive to sunlight. Even normal exposure to sunlight can cause painful sunburn and, in severe cases, skin cancer.

Lack of pigment also makes eyes extremely sensitive to bright light. The pigment that determines whether your eyes are blue, brown, green, or gray normally helps to filter out stray light. Without enough pigment your irises cannot block out excess light, meaning that light enters the eyes not only through their pupils but also through the irises. This inability to screen out excess light, plus a general lack of pigment in the eye’s underlying layers, is what makes albinos sensitive to bright light and glare.

Sensitivity to glare may be lessened by wearing sunglasses. But a lack of pigment can also cause vision so poor that it can not be corrected with glasses. Severe astigmatism and other problems such as crossed eyes may require special therapy and even surgery.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science