Vitiligo is a skin disorder that creates patches of white skin on a person’s skin. It typically starts on the hands, forearms, feet, and face. There isn’t a cure for vitiligo, but the goal of treatment is to help the patient manage their symptoms.
At Rendon Center, we help patients deal with vitiligo.
What Is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes the skin to lose its color. Smooth white areas (called macules if less than 5mm or patches if 5mm or larger) appear on a person’s skin. If you have vitiligo in a place that has hair, the hair on your body may also turn white.
Vitiligo affects people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious. But it can seriously affect a person’s self-image.
What Causes Vitiligo?
Normally, the color of hair and skin is determined by melanin. Vitiligo occurs when cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. The melanocytes are destroyed by the body’s immune system.
It’s not clear why this happens. This cell death may be related to:
- An autoimmune condition
- A trigger, such as stress, severe sunburn, or contact with a chemical
What Are the Symptoms of Vitiligo?
Vitiligo signs include:
- Patchy loss of skin color, which usually first appears on the hands, face, and areas around body openings and the genitals.
- Premature whitening or graying of the hair on your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, or beard.
- Loss of color in the tissues that line the inside of your mouth and nose (mucus membranes).
Depending on the type of vitiligo you have, it may affect:
- Nearly all skin surfaces — With this type, called universal vitiligo, the discoloration affects nearly all skin surfaces.
- Many parts of your body — With this most common type, called generalized vitiligo, the discolored patches often progress similarly on corresponding body parts (symmetrically).
- Only one side or part of your body — This type, called segmental vitiligo, tends to occur at a younger age, progress for a year or two, then stop.
- One or only a few areas of your body — This type is called localized vitiligo.
- The face and hands — With this type, called acrofacial vitiligo, the affected skin is on the face and hands, and around body openings, such as the eyes, nose, and ears.
When Do People First Get Vitiligo?
Vitiligo can start at any age, but it usually appears before a person turns 30.
Who Is at Risk for Developing Vitiligo?
Vitiligo occurs in about 1 to 2 percent of the population. Approximately 30 percent of people with vitiligo have a family history of the condition. About half of those with vitiligo start showing symptoms before the age of 20. People with autoimmune disorders, such as autoimmune thyroid disease and type 1 diabetes, are at an increased risk for developing vitiligo. It is also thought that those who suffer a trigger event, such as a severe sunburn, skin trauma, exposure to certain chemicals, or stress, can be more likely to develop vitiligo.
Is There a Cure for Vitiligo?
There is no cure for vitiligo. The goal of our Rendon Center treatments is to create a uniform skin tone by either restoring color (repigmentation) or eliminating the remaining color (depigmentation). Therapies we use are camouflage therapy, repigmentation therapy, light therapy, and surgery (rare).
How Long Does It Take to Treat Vitiligo?
There is no cure for vitiligo, and treatment success can vary by the patient and by the treatment type. Some options have some serious side effects. It can take some trial and error with our Rendon Center dermatologists to find the best treatment option for you.
Regardless of the treatment, there isn’t a timeframe. These are ongoing treatments whose goal is to stop, or at least slow, the loss of melanocytes, which is creating the light patches of skin. It can take months to find the best treatment.
A treatment may also be successful for some time, but then the results may stop, or new patches may appear.
Can You Die from Vitiligo? Is It Painful?
Vitiligo is not painful. However, if you don’t protect the areas that have turned white, they can receive a painful sunburn.
Otherwise, vitiligo is not in any way life threatening. And it is not contagious.