Health A-Z


Clinical Definition

Vitiligo is a skin disease that most commonly affects epidermis on the face and body and causes skin to lose pigment when melanocytes die (i.e., lightening and sometimes turning white). Vitiligo may affect the hair, inside of the mouth and in some cases, even the eyes. The disease swath can expand over time to large areas of the body, prompting obvious discoloration.

In Our Own Words

Vitiligo results in the destruction of melanocytes, the cells that give us our skin color, eye color and hair color. Generalized vitiligo is most common and appears on both sides of the body, often symmetrically. It progresses in starts and stops that expand and cycle through a lifetime, and it’s thought to involve an autoimmune strike against melanocytes. Less common, segmental vitiligo appears on one region of the body — just the left flank, for instance — and starts at a young age but eventually stops progressing.

This skin disorder can affect all races and ethnicities. Risk of vitiligo is increased if an individual has Hashimoto’s disease or Alopecia areata (i.e., balding in patches), or if vitiligo has previously affected a family member. Those with vitiligo may want to consider screening for autoimmune diseases.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Loss of skin color in patches on the body and face
  • Loss of pigment around the hairline, eyes and inside of the mouth
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