Skin pigmentation and the colour of the hair and eyes is dependent on melanocytes, specialised cells in the basal layer of the epidermis that produce melanin. In albinism, melanocytes are present but genetic mutations interfere with their ability to produce and distribute the pigment leaving the individual with pale skin, white or light coloured hair and certain eye problems such as impaired vision, photophobia, nystagmus and squint. It is a recessively inherited condition. One in 70 people carry a gene for albinism and if both parents carry the recessive gene, there is a one in four chance of producing an albino child, in which melanin may be absent or reduced leaving the patient at increased risk of sunburn and malignant skin conditions. Lack of pigment can lead to amelanotic malignant melanoma so any suspicious 'spots' should be taken seriously. Vision problems will need specialist advice. Patients should avoid sun exposure and be advised to wear protective clothing, a hat and use a high factor sunscreen.
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