What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a dermatological condition that occurs due to the loss of the skin’s normal pigment (colour). This causes white/light brown patches to develop on affected areas of the skin.


What causes Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is classified as an ‘autoimmune’ disease that results from the self destruction of melanocytes (pigment producing cells) within the skin. The lack of melanocytes leads to little or no production of the skin’s normal pigment – melanin. This causes white/light brown patches to develop on affected areas of the skin. Vitiligo is neither infectious nor contagious.


Who gets Vitiligo?

It occurs in approximately 1% of the world’s population, with men and women of all races equally affected. The condition can manifest at any age after birth although in up to 50% of patients, the skin lesions appear before the age of 20 years.  Vitiligo has been shown to have a hereditary component although only half of patients report a positive family history of the same condition. Therefore, patients with vitiligo may not necessarily pass on the condition to their offspring.


What are the symptoms of Vitiligo?

Typically, vitiligo appears as irregularly shaped white/light brown patches on the skin. There are usually no other symptoms although occasionally, there may be mild skin irritation or itching prior to the development of a vitiligo patch. Patients are usually distressed by the appearance of their skin especially those with pigmented skin because the patches of vitiligo are more noticeable.


Vitiligo can affect any area of the skin but the face, hands, the skin around body openings (eyes, nostrils, mouth, umbilicus and the genital area) and skin within body folds are more common sites of involvement. Vitiligo patches are often symmetrically distributed on both sides of the body although localised variants may occur and are limited to a specific area on the skin. When hair bearing skin is involved, there may be associated loss of pigment within the hair shaft, which may also appear white. Vitiligo tends to run an unpredictable clinical course – white/light brown patches may remain the same or extend slowly over a period of time.


How is Vitiligo diagnosed?

Vitiligo is usually a clinical diagnosis although examination under a Wood’s lamp may be used to confirm the diagnosis. Your dermatologist may request for some blood tests to rule out other autoimmune diseases in the body e.g thyroid disease and diabetes. Clinical photographs are often taken to monitor progress and response to treatment.


How is Vitiligo treated?

Several different treatment options are available for the management of vitiligo including topical preparations, oral medications including oral steroids, phototherapy and skin camouflage. The application of a broad spectrum sunscreen may be recommended because vitiligo patches can burn easily when exposed to the sun. Psychological support is usually offered because it plays an integral role in improving the quality of life of patients with vitiligo.