Vitiligo is a condition in which white patches appear on the skin. It currently affects 1-2 million Americans of all races and both sexes equally. Most people with vitiligo develop it before their 40th birthday. Vitiligo most commonly appears on areas most exposed to the sun such as the hands, feet, arms, face, eyelids, lips and nostrils, but it can also appear in the armpits and groin.
The cause is not known. Vitiligo may be an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the skin's melanocytes that make melanin, the pigment in your skin. If these cells cannot form melanin, the skin becomes completely white.
There is no known way to prevent Vitiligo. To minimize the appearance of vitiligo, practice sun protection using sunscreen and protective clothing. For those with light or medium skin color, avoiding tanning can make areas of vitiligo almost unnoticeable. While vitiligo may run in families, most children whose parents have the disorder will not get it.
There are several treatment options for vitiligo aimed at restoring color to the white patches of skin. Some can have unwanted side effects, may take a long time, or may not be effective. Depending on the extent of the white patches, treatment options include:
- Medical - medicines (such as topical corticosteroids and topical calcineurin inhibitors), Excimer laser, PUVA (combination of medicine with ultraviolet light therapy), and depigmentation therapy (removing the color from other areas to better match the white patches)
- Surgical - skin grafts and tattooing for small areas of skin
- Cosmetic - makeup or dye to cover the white patches