What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a disease affecting the skin. In people with this condition, the cells that make melanin (melanocytes) stop working/die. Melanin is the substance that creates the color in a person’s hair and skin. Since the melanin is not functioning in people with vitiligo, blotches of skin lose their normal color and appear lighter. Anywhere on the skin can be affected (even the hair and inside the mouth) and the extent and rate at which the skin loses its color is unpredictable and can vary from person to person. This condition can affect people of all skin types but is more prominent in those with darker skin tones. It is not contagious or life threatening. 
There are different types of vitiligo that may cause the blotches to form on different parts of your body. The most common type is called vitiligo vulgaris (generalized), which causes patches to form in an almost symmetrical pattern. Other types include:
  • Segmental, which causes blotches to form on only one side or part of the body. This type usually occurs at a younger age, will progress for a year or two, and then often stops. 
  • Localized (focal), which causes the vitiligo to only affect one or a few areas of the body. 
Risk factors
  • Family history of vitiligo 
  • Immune disorders that cause the destruction of melanocytes 
  • A triggering event: examples include sunburn, stress, or exposure to industrial chemicals. 


Diagnosis of vitiligo will often start with your doctor doing a complete medical history and physical exam. A lamp that uses ultraviolet light may also be shined on your skin in order to diagnose vitiligo. Diagnosis of this condition doesn’t usually require much testing, but in some cases other tests may be ordered. 
Some additional tests that may be done to diagnose this condition include:
  • Skin biopsy involves taking a sample of the affected skin and examining it under a microscope. 
  • Blood tests to look for autoimmune conditions 
There are some treatments available to help restore skin to its natural color. The results of these treatments are unpredictable and may vary from person to person. People may also opt to receive no medical treatment for vitiligo and may use cosmetics to cover up their affected skin instead. 
Potential treatment options for vitiligo include:
  • Anti-inflammatory creams
  • Medications affecting the immune system
  • Psoralen and light therapy
  • Depigmentation
  • Skin grafting 
  • Blister grafting
  • Tattooing
  • Vitiligo is estimated to affect approximately 1% of the world’s population. 
  • Vitiligo is hereditary in 1/3 of people affected by the disease. 
  • 1/2 of people affected notice their vitiligo before 20 years old. 
about vitiligo

  • "Vitiligo." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 May. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2018.
  • “Vitiligo.” American Academy of Dermatology Association. AAD, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2018.
  • “Vitiligo.” National Institutes of Health U.S. National Library of Medicine. Genetics Home Reference, 20 Feb. 2018. Web. 06 Mar. 2018. 
  • “Vitiligo.” American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. AOCD, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2018. 



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