Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease of the skin that causes the skin to lose color and patches of the skin to become lighter. The immune system attacks cells called melanocytes that make skin pigmented. Vitiligo can be associated with genetics, but that is not guaranteed. With this condition, some people will have a few spots, while others may have many. Vitiligo is not contagious and can affect people of all skin types.
This condition usually starts with a few small light-colored patches on the face, arms, hands, and feet. It can also affect the hair, causing white or grey hairs. The patches on the body can grow over time or stay the same. When there are just a few patches on the body in the same place, this is referred to as localized vitiligo. If the patches are scattered across the body, then it is generalized vitiligo. There isn’t a way to determine how much pigment loss a person may have or whether the patches will grow larger.
Many providers will diagnose vitiligo by its clinical features. If there is any uncertainty, a Wood’s lamp can be used to better view the hypopigmented skin. If it is determined that the patient has vitiligo, the provider may order lab work as this is an autoimmune condition.
Vitiligo can be treated, but there is no current cure. There are a few treatments such as topical corticosteroids, JAK inhibitors, and other topical options. Light therapy also may be used to help restore the lost pigment of the skin. While some treatments may work for one person, they may not work for another.
People with vitiligo can sunburn easier. A sunburn can also cause the vitiligo to worsen. In order to protect the skin, one should seek shade, wear sun-protective clothing, and apply at least SPF 30 sunscreen daily. If a person with vitiligo was to use a tanning bed, this could cause the lost pigment to worsen.
This condition can resemble eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus, lupus, and systemic sclerosis.
Citation: Vitiligo: Overview. (n.d.). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/vitiligo-overview
Written by Jessica Hubach, APRN