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Updated: Jan 23, 2023

"70 million people across the world have vitiligo" -Global Vitiligo Foundation

Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition in which the skin loses its color. In some cases, the spots that have turned white are limited to a few areas on the body; in others, Vitiligo might cause patches of skin to rapidly lighten or lose their color altogether. Most commonly, Vitiligo develops on the hands and feet or face, but it can appear on any part of the body. There is currently no way of predicting how much color a person will lose.

The human skin contains melanin, a pigment that gives the skin its color. Melanin is stored in the top layer of skin, called the epidermis. At the bottom of the epidermis, there is a layer called the basal layer; this is where melanocytes live. Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin.

Fun Fact: Vitiligo can start at any age but most typically becomes pronounced in people under the age of 40

When people experience a loss of pigment in their skin, commonly called depigmentation, the melanocytes in this area have been destroyed. Once the cells die, the area of skin or hair turns white because the cells I are no longer there to make pigment. This is Vitiligo.

What are the different types of Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is categorized into three types: generalized, segmental, and trichrome vitiligo.

The most common form of vitiligo is called generalized vitiligo. People with generalized vitiligo first experience discoloration

Figure 1: Example of generalized vitiligo. Image taken from the American Association of Dermatology

of their hands, fingertips, wrists, around their eyes and mouths or on their feet. The condition then spreads to other areas of their bodies, including their face, lips, hands, arms, legs and genitals.

The progression of generalized vitiligo is characterized by phases of pigment loss; it may continue frequently over a person's life.

Figure 2: Example of segmental vitiligo. Image taken from the American Association of Dermatology

A second form of vitiligo is called segmental vitiligo, in which the pigment loss is confined to one segment of the body. This type of vitligo usually begins in early adolescence, but unlike generalized vitiligo, it forms for only a year or two before stopping.

Figure 3: A person with trichrome vitiligo. Location:Left foot. Image taken frim The Global Vitiligo Foundation

The third type of vitiligo is called trichrome vitiligo.

Trichrome vitiligo is a variant of the disease in which a person develops three shades of color on their skin: brown, tan, and white. The hypo-pigmented areas are surrounded by normal skin and lie between the de-pigmentation center and the unaffected area of skin.

What are the different types of treatments available for vitiligo?

Certain individuals with vitiligo may experience a re-pigmentation of their skin without any treatment. After diagnosis by a dermatologist, someone with vitiligo can be recommended a variety of treatments, including light therapy, commonly known as narrowband ultraviolet B (NB-UVB). Creams, ointments, or oral medications. The choice of treatment may depend on the severity of the disease, your age, your health, and preference of treatment.

For any treatment, certain treatments perform better on certain individuals than others.

While vitiligo cannot be prevented, it can be treated, with current treatment options, there is potential to minimize its spread and regain pigment

Scientists are studying the cause for the destruction of melanocytes and are working to provide better treatment options

If you or a loved one suspect you might have vitiligo, please visit your local board-certified dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.


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-Dr. Del Campo


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