It affects about 1% of the population. No one really knows the exact cause of vitiligo, but genetic factors definitely play a role. About 20-30% of people with vitiligo will have a family history, but sometimes patients are the first in the family to develop symptoms.
Vitiligo appears as patches of skin that turn white or lose their color. Any area of the body can be affected, though it usually affects both sides of the body evenly (symmetrically). Common areas of involvement include the fingers, toes, ears, skin surrounding openings of the body such as the mouth, eyes, and nose, the skin over joints such as the elbows, knees, or finger joints, and parts of the skin that are injured or get rubbed a lot (as in areas under shoulder straps, waist bands, and collars).
The diagnosis of vitiligo is made by examination with a dermatologist. Sometimes the dermatologist will shine a black light, or a Wood's lamp, on the patches of skin to see if they become accentuated. A skin biopsy is usually not necessary. Vitiligo can sometimes be associated with other immune conditions, so
Treatment of vitiligo includes topical creams such as topical steroids or topical calcineurin inhibitors which can be used to help re-pigment the skin. The treatment of choice is light therapy, which is done with ultraviolet light in the office. If you have vitiligo, it is important to protect yourself from natural sun as much as possible. The areas of vitiligo will burn much more readily than the unaffected skin, and sun exposure will make the vitiligo patches stand out much more.
Although some people will have just one or two patches of vitiligo for their entire lives, others will find that the condition gets worse affecting more and more skin as time goes by. If it starts to concern you or you start to be bothered by the appearance, schedule an appointment to discuss treatment options. You can also connect with other people who have vitiligo by joining support groups such as Vitiligo Support International or the American Vitiligo Research Foundation.