Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes areas of skin to lose color (depigmentation), resulting in spots and irregular patches of lighter skin—whether a few spots or widespread color loss. People of any skin color can develop vitiligo.
If you have vitiligo, your immune system attacks cells in your body called melanocytes, those cells that make pigment. If the body continues to attack melanocytes, the patches will grow, and new spots and patches can appear in other areas.
There are several types of vitiligo. The most common, non-segmental vitiligo, tends to spread slowly with new patches developing off and on throughout a person’s life. Patches tend to appear on both sides of the body like both knees or both hands. Segmental vitiligo is rapid color loss on one side of the body. With localized vitiligo, you develop a few spots or patches that appear in one or a few places on your body. When it causes scattered patches of color loss in different areas of the body, it’s generalized vitiligo. While rare, you lose most of your skin color with universal vitiligo.
What Causes Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a skin condition that occurs when the cells responsible for producing skin pigment, called melanocytes, die and stop producing melanin. The exact cause of this chronic condition is largely unknown, although it is believed to be related to an immune system disorder that attacks the melanocytes in the skin. Some people also believe that vitiligo can be hereditary and triggered by events such as stress, severe sunburn, or skin trauma. Those with vitiligo may experience increased risks of social or psychological stress, sunburn, eye problems, and hearing loss.
The main symptom of vitiligo is the appearance of light-colored or white patches on any part of the body, including around the eyes. These patches may also be accompanied by the presence of lumps and bumps. Initially, small white spots may appear on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, arms, or legs. Other common signs of vitiligo include patchy loss of skin color, changes or loss of color in the retina, premature whitening or graying of the hair, and color loss in mucous membranes.
- Patchy loss of skin color
- Change or loss of color in the retina
- Premature whitening or graying of the hair
- Color loss in mucous membranes
Types Of Vitiligo
Vitiligo is typically categorized into two types: segmental and nonsegmental. Within these types, there are three subtypes: localized, generalized, and universal. It is difficult to predict how the condition will progress over time, but a dermatologist can help determine the specific type of vitiligo a patient has. The type and frequency of treatment will depend on the type of vitiligo. To learn more, it is recommended to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.
Segmental vitiligo, also known as unilateral vitiligo, usually develops during childhood or adolescence and progresses for a few years before stabilizing. This type of vitiligo appears in one area or segment of the body, such as one leg or one arm. In some cases, segmental vitiligo is accompanied by changes in the color of the eyebrows, hair, or eyelashes
Nonsegmental vitiligo, on the other hand, is the most common type and results in white patches appearing on both sides of the body. These patches typically start near the hands, eyes, mouth, or areas of the body that experience frequent rubbing. The color loss may start in patches but becomes more noticeable over time.
Dermatologists use subtypes to assess the extent and severity of pigment loss on a patient’s body. Localized vitiligo occurs when one or two patches appear on limited areas of the body, while generalized vitiligo is characterized by scattered patches throughout the body. The rarest subtype is universal vitiligo, which means that most of the pigment is lost.