Vitiligo causes depigmentation (the loss of color) of the skin. The condition appears as lighter patches of skin with clearly defined borders and can affect any part of the body.
Vitiligo is due to loss or destruction of the pigment-producing cells in the skin (melanocytes). These melanocytes make melanin, the pigment that colors our skin, eyes, and hair. Destroyed or dysfunctioning melanocytes cannot disperse melanin, so the skin loses its pigment.
The exact cause of vitiligo is currently unknown. It is thought to be a systemic autoimmune disorder occurring when the body’s own immune system attacks the melanocytes. No one knows what triggers the immune system to begin this process, but vitiligo is not life threatening or contagious.
The goal of vitiligo treatment is to restore the lost pigmentation and to prevent further spread. Treatment commonly involves topical medications, systemic medications, UV light therapy, and the excimer laser.
It’s important for people with vitiligo to use sun protection because they are at increased risk for burns in areas of depigmentation, and sunburns can stimulate further pigmentation loss.