Vitiligo is a skin condition of white patches resulting from loss of pigment. Any part of the body may be affected. Usually both sides of the body are similarly affected by a few too many milky-white patches.
Vitiligo affects one or two of every 100 people. About half the people who develop it do so before the age of 20; about one fifth have a family member with this condition. Most people with vitiligo are in good general health.
Melanin, the pigment that determines color of skin, hair, and eyes, is produced in cells called melanocytes. If these cells die or cannot form melanin, the skin becomes lighter or completely white.
Vitiligo is the result of the disappearance of these skin’s melanocytes.
While physicians aren’t certain what causes the disease, there are four main theories that exist. Abnormally functioning nerve cells may make toxic substances that injure melanocytes. The body’s immune system may destroy melanocytes. Pigment-producing cells may self-destruct or there can be a genetic defect that makes the melanocytes susceptible to injury.
Light therapies are a common treatment for vitiligo, which cause gradual darkening of the vitiligo spots over time resulting in an overall blending of skin tone. Cosmetics can also be used to add lost color to the affected areas and topical medication can be prescribed for certain patients to repigment the skin.