hypersensitivity reaction type II disease that causes depigmentation of skin patches resulting from loss of function or death of melanocytes

Vitiligo is a long term condition which causes white patches to develop on the skin. It can affect any area of skin, but it commonly happens on the face, neck and hands, and in skin creases.[1]

Non-segmental vitiligo of the hand
Medical specialtyDermatology Immunology
SymptomsPatches of white skin[2]
Usual onsetChildhood, young adult[2]
DurationLong term[2]
Risk factorsFamily history, other autoimmune diseases[4]
Diagnostic methodTissue biopsy[4]
TreatmentSunscreen, makeup, topical corticosteroids, phototherapy[3][4]
Frequency1% of people[5]
A young woman with vitiligo

Viltigo occurs when the melanocytes cells that give skin their color, die or do not work. This means not enough melanin is produced. It is a problem because these cells protect against the light from the sun, so it's important to take extra care when in the sun and use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF)[1]. This means the affected skin can become itchy in the sun.

Vitiligo is caused by the lack of a pigment called melanin in the skin. Melanin is produced by skin cells called melanocytes, and it gives skin its colour. In vitiligo, there are not enough working melanocytes to produce enough melanin in your skin. This causes white patches to develop on the skin or hair.[1]

The exact cause of vitiligo is complex and not fully understood. It may be caused by the immune system, genetic, and environmental factors, as well as problems during fetal development.

Non-segmental vitiligo (the most common type) is thought to be caused the immune system not working propely (an autoimmune condition)[1], leading the body to attack healthy cells and tissie in the body.

Vitiligo is also associated with other autoimmune conditions, such as hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), but not everyone with vitiligo will develop these conditions.[1]

People over 20 years old rarely develop this disease. These patches often occur to both sides symmetrically and may change shape.



The areas of skin most commonly affected by vitiligo include:[1]

Vitiligo often starts as a pale patch of skin that gradually turns completely white. The centre of a patch may be white, with paler skin around it. If there are blood vessels under the skin, the patch may be slightly pink, rather than white.[1] The edges of the patch may be smooth or irregular. They're sometimes red and inflamed, or there's brownish discolouration (hyperpigmentation).[1]

The condition varies from person to person. Some people only get a few small, white patches, but others get bigger white patches that join up across large areas of their skin.

Effects on the body

  • color of the skin is lighter because there are no pigments
  • purple or golden brown patches on and around the eyes, nose, and mouth
  • puffiness of the middle layer of the eye
  • whitening or quicker graying of hair[1]
  • more sensitive to sun

This disease can also affect the mental state of the patient.

As of 2020, doctors do not understand what causes the disease, so right now, it can not be cured. Some things can be done to fight its effects, though. Makeup or cosmetics can cover up the parts of the skin with vitiligo. Also, staying out of the sun to prevent tanning is good. But the treatment given by most skin doctors is cortico steroid cream. Breakthrough discovery in 2004 allowed for the transplant of melanocytes to vitiligo affected areas, repigmenting the region.

Famous people with vitiligo

  • Michael Jackson told Oprah in a 1993 interview that he had vitiligo. He is the most well known person to have had the disease. A lot of people thought that he was lying. He died in 2009, and his autopsy found that he was telling the truth. Apparently, when it got past the point where makeup could have hidden it, he chose to have the rest of the pigment removed.[6]
  • Jon Hamm got vitilgo when he was filmed acting for Mad Men because of stress.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Vitiligo". 2017-10-20. Retrieved 2024-05-28.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Cite error: The named reference Andrew2020 was used but no text was provided for refs named (see the help page).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cite error: The named reference Lancet2016 was used but no text was provided for refs named (see the help page).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Questions and Answers about Vitiligo". NIAMS. June 2014. Archived from the original on 21 August 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  5. Whitton, M; Pinart, M; Batchelor, JM; Leonardi-Bee, J; Gonzalez, U; Jiyad, Z; Eleftheriadou, V; Ezzedine, K (May 2016). "Evidence-based management of vitiligo: summary of a Cochrane systematic review". The British Journal of Dermatology. 174 (5): 962–69. doi:10.1111/bjd.14356. PMID 26686510. S2CID 38560830.
  6. Pigment loss story
  7. "Mad Men star's stress disease". The Age. 6 September 2010.