Understanding Vitiligo

Understanding Vitiligo

Causes, Symptoms and Treatment for Vitiligo

Vitiligo causes color loss in the skin pigment. It can effect any part of the body and any skin color. Vitiligo is not contagious or life-threatening.


Vitiligo appears when the melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin) stop producing pigment. The skin cells affected by vitiligo die, which lightens the skin or turns it white. Vitiligo may be hereditary, can be caused by stress, sunburn or an exposure to strong chemicals, or it could be a symptom of a disorder that causes the immune system to attack melanocytes.


The main symptom of vitiligo is discoloration on the hands, face, feet, arms and lips. More vitiligo symptoms include loss of color in mucous membrane tissues inside the nose and mouth, premature graying or whitening of facial and scalp hair, discolored patches around the genitals, armpits and navel, and a change or loss of color around the retina. These symptoms typical appear before the age of 20, but can begin at any age. Discoloration typically covers many parts of the body in symmetric patches across the body, but can also only show on one part of the body or in a localized area. Individuals with vitiligo may have increased risks of hearing loss, skin cancer, sun burn, eye issues and psychological or social stress.


There is no cure for vitiligo, and it is difficult to determine how much discoloration may occur as time progresses. Vitiligo can stop growing on its own, but it is very rare that color completely returns to the skin. Topical corticosteroids can help regiment the skin along with a topical form of vitamin D. Medications that alter the immune system treat very small areas affected by vitiligo, and light and laser therapy has successfully brought some color back to the skin. Skin grafting, blister grafting and tattooing are surgical procedures used to even the skin tone.

Self-Care Methods

It is important to protect skin that is affected with vitiligo from the sun with a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Only such sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30 are effective. Some may opt to use concealing products such as self-tanning products and foundation in order to even the skin. Tattooing is to be avoided; it could trigger a new patch of vitiligo within weeks.


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