Vitiligo is a long-term disorder where pale white patches develop on the skin. A deficiency in the skin pigment melanin is usually the primary cause. It can occur anywhere on the skin though it is common on the face, hands, neck, and in skin creases. It can also affect areas with hair roots, such as the scalp. The inadequacy of melanin in your skin can turn the hair in these regions grey or white.
Vitiligo frequently starts as a pale patch of skin that turns completely white after some time. The center of a patch may be white, with a pale skin around it. If there are blood vessels under the skin, the patch may be pinkish, instead of white.
The edges may be smooth or irregular. They are sometimes red and inflamed, or there’s hyperpigmentation. The condition does not cause dryness or discomfort to your skin, but the patches may be sometimes itchy.
Vitiligo varies with each person. Some only have a few small, white patches, while others have bigger white spots that join up across vast areas of the skin. The white spots are usually permanent.
What causes vitiligo?
Skin cells called melanocytes produce melanin, which gives your skin its color. In vitiligo, there aren’t enough working melanocytes to produce enough melanin in your skin. It causes white patches to develop on your skin or hair. It is not clear exactly why the melanocytes disappear from the affected areas of the skin.
Non-segmental vitiligo (the most common type) is an autoimmune condition. In autoimmune conditions, the immune system does not work right. Rather than busting viruses and bacteria, your immune system assaults your healthy cells and tissue. If you have non-segmental vitiligo, your immune system destroys the melanocyte skin cells that make melanin.
You are in danger of developing non-segmental vitiligo if other members of your family have it. Other risks include:
- A family history of other autoimmune conditions
- Having another autoimmune disease
- Having melanoma or cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
- Particular changes in your genes
Chemicals discharged from the nerve endings in your skin cause segmental vitiligo (the less common type). These chemicals are harmful to the melanocyte skin cells.
Particular events may trigger vitiligo, such as:
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- Severe sunburn
Infection does not cause vitiligo, and you cannot catch it from someone else who has it.
The white patches are usually permanent. Still, there are treatment options available to improve the appearance of your skin. If the spots are small, you can use a skin camouflage cream to cover them up. In general, combination treatments, such as phototherapy and medication, give the best results.
Although treatment may help restore color to your skin, the effect does not usually last. Treatment cannot stop the condition from spreading.