Image courtesy of DermNet NZ.

Image courtesy of DermNet NZ.


What is it?

This is a condition that leads to the loss of pigment in the skin leaving patches of pale white skin.  This is basically due to the loss of melanin due to the loss of melanocytes in the skin.

Vitiligo affects up to 2% of the world population and are prevalent in people with darker skin

Causes & Triggers

Vitilgo is caused  by the loss of melanin in the skin. Melanin  is the pigment which protects the skin from the sun rays and gives the skin its colour. It is presumed to be a autoimmune condition and patches occur around the fingers, wrists, neck, genitalia, around eyes and mouth and also within skin folds such as armpits and groin.

The onset can be triggered by exposure to certain chemicals, damage to skin from a burn, childbirth and emotional stress. Vitiligo usually develops before 20 years of age.

Types & Symptoms

There’s segmental and non segmental Vitiligo and it is based on which parts/ sides of the body the patches are. Segmental patches are specific to one side of the body and non segmental are symmetrical are on both sides of the body. Non segmental can be found in up to 90% of people affected.

Diagnosis & Treatments

This is diagnosed by a simple examination of the skin with questions to ascertain when the symptoms started to develop. To establish if there are underlying condition tests may be run to determine if there are autoimmune conditions involved.

A referral to a dermatologist may be made for a second opinion and possible treatment if the condition has progressed to 20% or more of your body or you are pregnant or initial treatments are not effective.

There is no cure for this condition but self tanning, makeup and skin camouflage products are offered as temporary cover ups, if desired.

Phototherapy may be used to stimulate the skin to produce melanin and corticosteroids can be applied to reduce the destruction of the melanocytes which help give the skin its colour.

In further cases, skin grafting which is when normal skin is removed from one body part to cover up patches may be done and also depigmentation where the entire area is made to look the same non-pigmented colour through topical treatments using prescribed hydroquinone under medical supervision.