Thanks to social media and how easy it is to search, discover and communicate with people across the globe, we are now becoming more aware and accepting of a wide range of different skin types.
You may be familiar with the success of model and activist Winnie Harlow. After appearing on America’s Next Top Model, Winnie rose to fame for embracing, owning and using her rare skin condition vitiligo to empower her, as opposed to seeing it as a burden. That is but just one example of how skin conditions can be seen in a new light.
Our aim is to shed a positive light on albinism, and learn a whole bunch in the process.
Note: Title image from Love Mirian.
What Is An Albino Person?
An albino person is simply put, a human that has the hereditary skin disorder known as albinism. Albinism is the partial or complete deficiency of pigment in the skin, which is melanin. Melanin is the color pigment that constitutes the dark brown to black pallet of colors in the skin, hair and eyes. This means that someone affected by albinism would not have dark skin, or hair or iris color, because of the absence of melanin.
You can easily recognize albinos as they will have an extremely pale skin tone and usually a yellowish or orange hue to their hair coloring. Some albinos will also have red iris color, however, that is not consistent with all albinos as many have blue irises and few are known to have green.
What Is The Cause Of Albinism In Black People?
Yes, we completely understand why when a dark-skinned African couple produces a light skinned, fair haired, light eyed child, there are going to be a few questions. Infidelity is usually the first word out of people’s mouths and there may even be a cameo on Jerry Springer in store for some. But what most people don’t realize is that it IS possible. It’s even possible for albino children to have normally pigmented brothers and sisters.
In typical cases, a defective gene is passed down from both parents to their child, causing albinism. This defect will cause either a reduction or total loss of the production of melanin. But what about cases where both parents are black? Is that really possible? Believe it or not, regardless of skin color, you may be carrying the gene for albinism. This is despite whether or not you have, or are aware of, any Caucasian blood in your family tree.
Types Of Albinism
1 in every 20,000 people worldwide are albino according to a Genetics Home Reference study. That number is a lot larger than we expected! The specific gene defect a person harbors will determine the characterization of albino type. There are five different classifications that are currently used:
Oculocutaneous Albinism or OCA
There are a number of different OCA subtypes:
OCA1 – total absence of melanin causes white hair, very pale skin and light eyes (color may increase as a person grows older)
OCA2 – reduced melanin production, less severe effects to OCA1
OCA3 – defect in gene TYRP1, affects dark-skinned people, causes red/brown skin, red hair and fair brown eyes
OCA4 – defect in SLC45A2 protein, usually seen in Asia, similar effects to OCA2
Ocular Albinism or OA
OA is caused by a mutation of the X chromosome and is (almost) exclusive to the male population. In this particular form only a person’s eyes will be affected, they will have no colour in their retina.
Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome or HPS
HPS is very rare, is symptoms although similar to those of OCA types, occurs with bowel, lung and bleeding disorders.
Another rare form of albinism is chediak-Higashi Syndrome, it is caused by a direct defect of the gene, LYST. It will cause hair to have a blond or silvery sheen with the skin being white to grey in color. This does come with a risk of infection due to people with Chediak-Higashi Syndrome having a defect in the white blood cells.
Griscelli Syndrome or GS
GS is the rarest form of albinism with only 60 cases known and documented since the 1970’s. Sadly, Griscelli Syndrome causes such significant neurological and immune problems that the majority of those who have it die within the first decade of their life.