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The depigmentation of parts of the skin is called as vitiligo. This disease can proceed at different rates and extent of color loss in different people. Let us learn more about vitiligo from the following paragraphs.

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is the change in color of skin due to malfunction or death of the cells called melanocytes. These melanocytes are cells responsible for skin pigmentation. They produce melanin that gives color to the hair, eyes and skin. When melanocytes die or stop functioning, melanin production stops and leads to depigmentation of skin. Vitiligo can affect people of all skin types. However, the condition becomes noticeable in people with darker skin tones.

Any part of the body can suffer from depigmentation. The most common areas affected include the face, neck, eyes, nostrils, nipples, armpits, groin, genitalia. It may even appear around pigmented moles. In some people, the hair may turn gray early on.

Types of Vitiligo

In some people, the light patches spread fast and remain stable over the years. In some, the progress is slow and gradual. According to the amount and location of pigmentation, vitiligo is classified as:

  • Focal vitiligo: Only a few spots seen in a single area
  • Generalized vitiligo: Many spots around the body that are equally present on both sides, that is, right and left side of the body.
  • Segmental vitiligo: Patches seen only on one side of the body. This is a comparatively rare condition as opposed to generalized vitiligo.

Signs and Symptoms

The main and obvious symptom of vitiligo is loss of skin color that causes the appearance of light or white patches on the skin. Other symptoms include:

  • Premature graying of hair on scalp, eyebrows, eyelash, beard
  • Depigmentation of tissues inside the mouth and nose
  • Change in color of the retina (eyeball)
  • Patches of discoloration in the armpits, navel, genitals and rectum


When melanin producing cells die or malfunction, it leads to loss of skin, hair or eye color. However, it is still unknown what leads to the cell death or malfunction. It may be related to a hereditary link, if someone in the family has or had the condition. Autoimmune conditions, that kill healthy melanocytes leading to vitiligo, oxidative stress, viral infection, sunburn or chemical exposure.


The doctor will take a full medical history of the patient and use a special lamp that shines ultraviolet light on the skin. This test will help determine the presence of vitiligo. In addition to this test, the doctor may conduct a skin biopsy and carry out certain blood test.


Vitiligo has no cure. There are certain treatments that help restore the skin color or tone. However, many such treatments have serious side effects. The doctor may prescribe certain creams like topical corticosteroid that will help control inflammation and help with repigmentation of the skin. Topical calcipotriene may also help prevent dry skin, rash and itching.

Some people may go for light therapy, laser therapy or surgery that includes skin grafting, blister grafting and even tattooing to implant pigment into the skin.

Vitiligo leads to many cosmetic problems for some people. It causes social and psychological distress and many people suffer from depression due to the depigmentation of the skin. If you notice any changes or spots on your skin that appear abnormal, speak to a skin specialist. Vitiligo caught early on may help slow down the spread or find a cream that evens out the skin tone.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 06, 2015

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