Vitiligo (vit-il-EYE-go) 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.
The condition occurs when melanocytes (the skin cells that produce melanin, the chemical that gives skin its color, or pigmentation) are destroyed by the body’s immune system.
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Vitiligo usually begins with a few small white patches that may gradually spread over the body over the course of several months. Vitiligo typically begins on the hands, forearms, feet, and face but can develop on any part of the body, including the mucous membranes (moist lining of the mouth, nose, genital, and rectal areas), the eyes, and inner ears.
Sometimes the larger patches continue to widen and spread, but usually they stay in the same place for years. The location of smaller macules shifts and changes over time, as certain areas of skin lose and regain their pigments. Vitiligo varies in the amount of skin affected, with some patients experiencing few depigmented areas and others with widespread loss of skin color.
Sometimes the larger patches continue to widen and spread, but usually they stay in the same place for years. The location of smaller macules shifts and changes over time, as certain areas of skin, lose and regain their pigments.
About 10% to 20% of people who have vitiligo fully regain their skin color. People with the best chance of regaining skin color are those who are young, whose vitiligo reaches its peak in less than six months and is located mainly on the facial area. People who are less likely to regain their color are those who get vitiligo later in life on their lips and limbs, especially the hands.
What should I know about living with vitiligo?
In reading about vitiligo, you might find this thought showing up in many places, that ‘vitiligo is not life-threatening, but it is life-altering.’ The fact that vitiligo develops over time is one reason for this. Another factor is that many societies believe that appearance is very important, and that being different is to be avoided. This is often very true for women.
Vitiligo is not necessarily inherited. However, about 30% of people who have vitiligo do have at least one close relative who also has vitiligo.
It is important for everyone to take ownership of their health. Educating yourself about vitiligo and finding a doctor who really knows about the disease and treatment options is key. If you develop any new symptoms that cause you worry, or if you have questions, make sure your voice is heard.