Vitiligo is a medical condition that causes the skin to lose color. Some people develop a few spots that may lighten or turn completely white. Others can have widespread loss of skin color. Vitiligo can develop on any part of the body, but commonly begins on hands, forearms, feet, or face. There is no way to predict how much color a person will lose.
Vitiligo affects both genders and all races, but is more noticeable in people with darker skin. The close “blood relatives” of a person with Vitiligo have elevated risk of also developing Vitiligo. Persons with Vitiligo also have elevated risk of other autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and others.
Researchers have discovered that Vitiligo develops when cells called Melanocytes die or are destroyed by the body’s immune system. As the cells die, an area of the skin or hair turns white because the cells no longer make pigment.
Vitiligo is apparently caused by inheritance of multiple causal genes simultaneously, possibly in different combinations in different people, plus exposure to environmental risk factors or triggers that are not yet known. Phenols, and stress, whether emotional or physical, are suspected to be environmental triggers, but research continues into these and other possibilities.