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Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • Vitiligo is a skin condition causing white or gray patches on the skin due to the destruction of melanin-producing cells.
  • This condition can present in several ways, including generalized, segmental, or focal vitiligo, and may also cause premature hair and mucous membrane color loss.
  • The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, but may be related to heredity, autoimmune diseases, and other conditions such as thyroid disease, alopecia, and diabetes.
  • While vitiligo cannot be prevented, it can be managed by protecting the skin from sunburns and accepting one's appearance.
  • Treatment options for vitiligo vary and may include medications, light treatment, surgery, or holistic methods, but their effectiveness varies and they may have side effects.

Possible Symptoms for Vitiligo

1. White patches of skin

The main symptom of vitiligo is associated with skin that loses its color and becomes very white or gray. When vitiligo occurs, the skin cells in the body that produce melanin (also known as melanocytes) are destroyed, leading to white patches of skin, while the rest of the skin may be darker in color.[1] The three types of vitiligo are: generalized or non-segmental vitiligo, which occurs all over the body, often in a mirror pattern; segmental vitiligo, which occurs on one side of the body; and focal vitiligo, which causes several spots in one area.

2. Hair color loss

People with vitiligo can also lose the color in the hair on their heads, eyelashes, facial hair, including eyebrows, or other places.[2] This may sometimes look like the whitening that can occur with age, but it happens prematurely.

3. Mucous membrane color loss

Vitiligo doesn’t just affect the skin on the outside of the body. It can affect the tissue inside your nose and mouth as well.[2] This means the mucous membranes in your body may lose their pigmentation. Vitiligo can also occur inside the retina or the inner part of the eye.

4. Lack of symptoms

People who experience vitiligo will also notice a lack of other symptoms aside from those of whitening or graying hair and skin.[3] It is common for people who have vitiligo to experience no health problems whatsoever; although issues of self-consciousness and self-esteem are common because of the misunderstood nature of the condition.

Top 4 Causes of Vitiligo

1. Unknown

Generally, the cause of vitiligo is unknown.[4] There is no one issue believed to cause this condition or any specific behaviors or patterns associated with it.

2. Heredity

Like many skin conditions, vitiligo can run in families. However, tracing one’s genetics is not a definite way to determine if someone will develop vitiligo.

3. Autoimmune diseases

Vitiligo tends to be more common in those who have autoimmune diseases.[4] This might be because vitiligo itself, or at least non-segmental vitiligo, is an autoimmune disease. This could be true because it causes the body to attack harmless melanocytes in the way other autoimmune diseases cause the body to attack itself. However, scientists have not been able to fully verify this.[5]

4. Other disorders

Thyroid disease, alopecia, diabetes, and other disorders might be associated with the development of vitiligo.[6] Studies have also shown that segmental vitiligo, the least common type, might be caused by a problem with the nervous system.[3]

2 Ways to Prevent Vitiligo

1. Skincare

You cannot prevent vitiligo from occurring, and there is likely nothing you're doing to cause this condition. Nonetheless, you can help care for your skin by avoiding problems like sunburns. It is much easier to burn when you have vitiligo, so make sure to use plenty of sunscreen to protect your skin.[7] In addition, if you already have fair skin, protecting your skin from tanning makes vitiligo less noticeable.

2. Embrace your condition

Many people with vitiligo suffer from a feeling of discomfort with their bodies, but learning to embrace your appearance may be the best way to deal with the condition. Rather than covering up the patches of whitened skin with cosmetics, which can be time-consuming and doesn’t always provide the desired effect, you can make wardrobe choices that not only flatter you but also minimize or cover the appearance of vitiligo. You can also connect with other people who have the same condition to learn more about it and how to build your self-esteem.

Possible Vitiligo Treatment Options

1. Seek advice from a dermatologist

Dermatologists can provide many treatments for vitiligo, but not all of them are effective for every person.[4] Sometimes, these treatments don’t work or can cause serious side effects. Therefore, it’s important to discuss them with your doctor before starting treatment.

2. Medicines

Certain medicines are applied directly to the skin and offer added color to the areas of the skin where vitiligo has taken it away. Approximately 45 percent of patients who use these medications often see at least some increase in color after around six months.[8] However, this treatment is often only effective for small areas of the body and can have side effects.

3. Light treatment

Light treatment is an option that uses lasers, UVA light, or a light box to restore skin color. It is effective for many patients (about 70 percent), but the results can disappear over time, especially if treatment is stopped. It’s also time-consuming.[8]

4. Surgery

Surgery is also an option, although it can be costly and potentially cause side effects like infection and scarring.[8]

5. Other options

Certain holistic methods can sometimes be effective for vitiligo. Ginkgo biloba and St. John’s Wort have both been researched for their ability to restore skin color.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask about Vitiligo

  • Does anyone in your family have vitiligo?
  • Do you have or have you ever suffered from an autoimmune disease?
  • How do you feel about your body and the way that you look?
  • Do you struggle with the effects of vitiligo?
  • Are you looking for a long-term solution, short-term options, or advice on how to accept your condition?

Vitiligo May Also be Known as

  • Hypopigmentation


Frequently asked questions

  • What is vitiligo?

    Vitiligo is a skin condition that results in white or gray patches of skin. It's caused by the destruction of melanin-producing cells in the skin.
  • What are the different types of vitiligo?

    There are three main types: generalized vitiligo which occurs all over the body, segmental vitiligo which affects one side of the body, and focal vitiligo which is characterized by several spots in one area.
  • What causes vitiligo?

    The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, but it may be linked to heredity, autoimmune diseases, and other disorders like thyroid disease, alopecia, and diabetes.
  • Can vitiligo be prevented?

    No, vitiligo cannot be prevented. However, individuals can manage the condition by protecting their skin from sunburns and embracing their unique appearance.
  • What are the treatment options for vitiligo?

    Treatment options for vitiligo may include medications, light treatment, surgery, or holistic methods. However, the effectiveness of these treatments varies and some may have side effects.
  • Does vitiligo affect hair color?

    Yes, people with vitiligo may experience premature hair color loss.
  • Can vitiligo be cured?

    No, there is currently no cure for vitiligo. However, there are various treatment options available to manage the condition.
  • Should I consult a dermatologist for vitiligo treatment?

    Yes, it's important to discuss treatment options with a dermatologist as not all treatments are effective for everyone and some may have side effects.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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