25 Facts About Albinism We Might Want To Be Aware Of

Posted by , Updated on January 18, 2024

People with albinism are some of the least-well understood on the planet. Plenty of myths abound about them, including that they are sterile, a curse, and even that their body parts can be used as magical talismans. (Some uninformed people even believe that a child with albinism born to a black mother and father is the ghost of a former European colonist.) We’re happy to report that none of these are true. Those with the albino disorder are virtually identical to people without it. The main difference obviously results in the lack of pigmentation, though some side symptoms include vision problems and higher susceptibility to the sun – both of which can be treated.

Though people with albinism are often teased or ridiculed, we’re here to try and change that. In this list, we dig into the scientific facts about albinism, including: Is it contagious? Do people with albinism die younger? and, what causes albinism? As a genetic condition, albinism is equivalent to having blond hair rather than brown hair. Despite the destigmatization of people with albinism which has started taking root, plenty of doubt and confusion exists around this disorder. Let’s clear that up in this list of 25 facts about Albinism we might want to be aware of.


Featured image by David Bokuchava / Shutterstock.com


Albinism is a congenital (existing at or before birth) disorder caused by reduced or the complete absence of melanin: the pigment responsible for giving color to our skin, eyes, and hair. Albinism is sometimes known as hypopigmentation.

albinism singer mem nahadrSource: NHS, Image: Wikipedia

People with albinism can live long, healthy lives just as anyone else. The biggest danger comes from skin cancer which develops more easily from unprotected sun exposure.

sunburn on backSource: Encyclopedia, Image: kellysue via Flickr

While it's commonly thought people with albinism have pink or red eyes, their irises vary in color from light gray to blue (most common) and even brown. The reddish color comes from light reflected off the back of the eye, in the same way as camera flashes sometimes produce images with red eye.

BoldRedEyeSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Wikipedia

People with albinism often have one or a few eye conditions, including poor eyesight, involuntary eye movements (nystagmus), and sensitivity to light (photophobia).

B&W_girl_portrait_with_sunglassesSource: NHS, Image: Wikipedia

Herman Melville's famous book "Moby Dick" is based on a real whale with albinism known as Mocha Dick. The "white whale of the Pacific", Mocha Dick was a destructive sperm whale living near Mocha island off southern Chile who survived countless attacks from whalers and retaliated fiercely when attacked.

Moby_Dick_p510_illustrationSource: Delbanco, Andrew. Melville, His World and Work., Image: Wikipedia

The cause of albinism is cellular. Malfunctioning genes don't produce melanin and cannot be made to.

Autosomal_recessive_-_miniSource: NHS, Image: Wikipedia

Though the disorder is found in about 1 in 20,000 people in the United States, its prevalence is higher for other parts of the world where it can be as high as 1 in every 3,000 people in some parts of Africa.

Albino_woman_in_canoe,_BeninSource: National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, Image: Wikipedia

People with albinism synthesize vitamin D five times faster than dark-skinned people. Since vitamin D is produced when ultraviolet-B light enters the skin, the lack of pigmentation means the light can enter more easily.

vitamin d why you needSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Our Sacred Seeds via YouTube

Though albinism does not require treatment, the skin and eye conditions which accompany it often do need specialized treatment.

Man_taking_eyedropsSource: NHS, Image: Wikipedia

Many different types of albinism exist. Oculocutaneous albinism is the most common and most severe, with a person's hair and skin remaining a pale white color throughout their lives.

Ministry_of_Hope_Nursery,_Lilongwe_-_MalawiSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Wikipedia

Some children born with less severe forms of albinism are born with white hair and skin which slightly darkens as they grow older.

Albino_girl_hondurasSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Wikipedia

Various other pigmentation disorders exist such as erythrism (excessive red pigmentation), xanthochromism (yellow pigmentation), and vitiligo (loss of pigmentation in patches on the skin).

Ceratophrys_ornata_(Pacman_Frog)Source: NHS, Image: Wikipedia

One in 17,000 people have some form of albinism gene. Though it affects the sexes equally, males are more likely to have ocular albinism: a lack of pigment in the eyes.

green eyesSource: NHS, Image: Pixabay

People with albinism face persecution and bullying all over the world. Some of this comes from beliefs that they are cursed or that their body parts have magical powers when used by witch doctors.

Color_post_card._Indian_witch_doctor_(_shaman_)_healing_a_sick_woman._-_NARA_-_297728Source: Cruz-Inigo, Andres E.; Ladizinski, Barry; Sethi, Aisha (January 2011). "Albinism in Africa: Stigma, Slaughter and Awareness Campaigns", Image: Wikimedia

Albinism can occur in any vertebrate in the animal world as well. Check out pictures of various albino animals in our article "25 unbelievable Albino Animals", Click here to see the article.

Hedgehog_with_AlbinismSource: List 25, Image: Wikipedia

In some cultures, albino animals are highly regarded. Native Americans, for example, would revere white bison as symbols of power and good luck and ensure they were not harmed.

white bison statueSource: Missouri Department of Conservation, Image: yanush63 via Flickr

Around 1 in 70 people carry one albinism gene. If both parents carry the albinism gene, there is a 25% chance the child will be born with the disorder.

baby feetSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Pixabay

To be born with albinism, a baby must have defective genes from both its parents. If the baby inherits one normal and one albinism gene, enough melanin will be produced by the normal gene.

parents with a babySource: Encyclopedia, Image: Pixabay

One of the most severe types of albinism is known as Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome. People with this variation are prone to bleeding, bruising, and lung disease.

US_Navy_061218-N-5345W-055_Chief_Hospital_Corpsman_Tracy_Adjip_performs_a_sonogram_on_a_patient_while_trying_to_diagnose_the_sourceSource: National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, Image: Wikimedia

Related to albinism is a skin condition called vitiligo where only some parts of the skin lose their pigment. Notable people to have vitiligo include the late Michael Jackson and America's Next Top Model contestant Winnie Harlow.

winnie harlowSource: Rietschel, Robert L.; Fowler, Joseph F., Jr. (2001). Fisher's Contact Dermatitis, Image: Vimeo

Albinism is most common in various groups of sub-Saharan Africa. Some evolutionary biologists argue that when we transitioned from primate to hominid and lost most of our hair, the skin below the now-non-existent hair would have been pale. People who produced more melanin (and thus had darker skin) are thought to have had an evolutionary advantage.

Australopithecus_afarensisSource: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Image: Wikipedia

Scientists can test if a parent has an albino gene by testing if a hair follicle produces melanin.

CBP_chemist_reads_a_DNA_profileSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Wikipedia

Some lesser-informed men in East Africa - especially Tanzania which has the largest population of people with albinism in Africa - believe that the mother of an albino child was unfaithful with a white man or that the baby is the ghost of a former European colonist.

Défense_de_Rorke's_DriftSource: Cruz-Inigo, Andres E.; Ladizinski, Barry; Sethi, Aisha (January 2011). "Albinism in Africa: Stigma, Slaughter and Awareness Campaigns", Image: Wikipedia

Currently, there is no treatment which can cause the body to produce melanin and lessen the symptoms of albinism.

two girls - one with albinismSource: Encyclopedia, Image: monusco via Flick

To sum it up, albinism is genetic and thus is not contagious. And it doesn't make anyone less of a person. It's as genetic as having brown hair or blond hair, and we don't think less of people with brown or blond hair, so why should anyone think differently about a person with albinism?

beyond the complexion albinism posterImage: Wikipedia

Photo: 3. By <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Alphonse_de_Neuville" class="extiw" title="w:en:Alphonse de Neuville"><span title="French painter (1835-1885)">Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville</span></a> - <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://collection.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/results.do?view=detail&amp;images=true&amp;dept=western/pre1900&amp;db=object&amp;browse=western/pre1900/browse&amp;id=3225">http://collection.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/results.do?view=detail&amp;images=true&amp;dept=western/pre1900&amp;db=object&amp;browse=western/pre1900/browse&amp;id=3225</a>, Public Domain, Link

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