More than 200,000 US cases per year
- Requires medical diagnosis
- Symptoms: Small white patches of depigmentation
- Color: Typically white
- Location: Anywhere on the skin, generally around the face, feet, arms, hands, and lips
- Treatment: No known cure; UVB lamps, topical creams, oral medication, color removal, skin grafting
Vitiligo is depigmentation of the skin. It causes the skin to lose color, and patches of lighter skin appear. This happens when the melanocytes (skin pigmentation cells) die or cannot function. It is not contagious or dangerous.
The exact cause is unknown but may be triggered by genetics, a virus or an autoimmune response. An autoimmune response causes the immune system to attack some part of the body by mistake. Other possible, but unproven factors include sunburn, emotional distress and self-destruction of melanocytes.
Vitiligo usually affects people in their twenties, but the condition can occur at any age. The disorder affects all races and both sexes equally. However, it is more noticeable in people with darker skin.
People with certain autoimmune diseases (such as hyperthyroidism) or parents who have vitiligo are more likely to get vitiligo.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
Small white patches of depigmentation can signify vitiligo. This usually occurs in areas where the skin is most exposed to the sun, such as around the face, feet, arms, hands, and lips. Sometimes it also appears in armpits, rectal areas and the genitalia.
First signs of vitiligo can be a loss of color inside the mouths or eyes and graying of the hair. The white patches may spread at vastly different rates on the body or not at all.
What can I do?
This skin condition is not contagious or life-threatening, but it can change your life. Many people experience low self-esteem and serious depression after developing vitiligo. Cope with vitiligo by talking with other people who have vitiligo, family and friends.
Some people with vitiligo have found that cosmetics that cover the white patches improve their appearance and help them feel better about themselves. It may take some time to try several brands of concealing cosmetics before finding the product that works best for you.
Should I seek medical care?
If you have vitiligo, you should discuss treatment options with your dermatologist. There are many treatment options. The goal of most treatments is to restore lost skin color.
Treatment for Vitiligo
Although not preventable or curable, common treatments include skin exposure to UVB lamps and skin grafting (skin transplantation). Other medical methods include topical creams, oral medication, and removing color from other skin areas to match the color of the white patches. Some people prefer tattooing small areas of the skin or using cosmetics to cover up the patches. These medicines have possible side effects, so patients must be carefully monitored.
American Academy of Dermatology. Vitiligo. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/color-problems/vitiligo
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. What Is Vitiligo? Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/vitiligo/vitiligo_ff.asp
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