Understanding Vitiligo: Causes and Effective Treatments

Society has tricked us into thinking we need to have the clearest, smoothest skin in order to be beautiful, making a vitiligo diagnosis really difficult for most people to deal with. Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the skin to lose its color which results in white patches on the skin, and although it’s not painful and typically harmless, it may not always feel that way for your emotional and mental health. So, it’s time to change that so you can get back to feeling like your beautiful, confident self once again. 

about vitiligo

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a skin condition where the immune system attacks melanocytes, which are responsible for producing melanin and that create the pigment that gives skin color. As a result, depigmentation occurs and the skin starts to lose its natural tone. It’s typically a chronic condition once it appears, with a 10% to 20% percent chance of the skin returning back to its natural color if treated promptly.

Vitiligo generally starts off as a pale area of skin that gradually turns completely white. If the area of the skin affected is less than 1 centimeter wide it’s called macules and if it’s larger than 1 cm, it’s called patches. For the sake of this article, we will be referring to them as patches.

The patch of skin may be entirely white or it may have paler skin around the white center or have more of a pink tone, rather than white. The edges of the patch can also be smooth or irregular. This loss of skin color can occur in various parts of the body, including in the mouth and scalp. It can also affect your hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, causing the hair to turn white or silver.

This skin condition can affect anyone, regardless of age, race and gender. Although, it tends to be more visible on darker skin tones. There are also some factors that can increase your risk of developing vitiligo, such as autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Addison’s disease, anemia and thyroid disease.

Types of Vitiligo

There are two main types of vitiligo: generalized vitiligo and segmental vitiligo. Both types involve the destruction of cells responsible for skin pigmentation, resulting in patches of lighter skin. However, what separates the two is how they present on the body. For example, generalized vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo. It causes loss of color in various areas of the body. On the other hand, segmental vitiligo only affects one side of the body or one specific area, such as the face or hands.

Vitiligo can also be broken down into more specific types based on their appearance and the part of the body it affects.

Let’s take a quick look at the two main types in comparison to the other types:

  • Generalized (nonsegmental) vitiligo: causes depigmentation in various areas of the body.
  • Segmental vitiligo: affects only one side of the body or one specific area, such as the hands or face.
  • Mucosal vitiligo: affects the mucous membranes of the mouth and/or genitals and appears in these areas.
  • Focal vitiligo: a rare type of vitiligo that causes small patches (macules, specifically) of depigmentation in a small area in the body. It typically doesn’t spread for the first couple of years.
  • Trichome vitiligo: causes a bullseye-like pattern that appears with a white or colorless center with an area of lighter pigmentation around it, following by an area of the person’s natural skin tone.
  • Universal vitiligo: a rare type of vitiligo that causes more than 80% of the skin to have no pigmentation.

You can also have mixed vitiligo, which is a combination of nonsegmental and segmental vitiligo.

Symptoms of Vitiligo

The most obvious symptom of vitiligo is depigmented or light spots on the skin. As mentioned previously, these pale patches can appear differently and in virtually any part of the body. However, areas that are exposed to the sun, such as your arms, face, legs, feet and hands, are likely to show the first signs.

In addition to the loss of skin coloration, vitiligo can also cause graying or whitening of your hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. It has also been known to produce inflammation in your ears and eyes, which can lead to vision and hearing impairments if left untreated.

Other than that, vitiligo is typically a harmless condition from a physical standpoint, despite it affecting your physical appearance. It isn’t contagious or life-threatening either, nor is it painful, but you are at higher risk of getting intense sunburns so it’s crucial to protect yourself when out in the sun.  

It’s also worth mentioning a common symptom of vitiligo that isn’t talked about near as much as it should be, and that is the impact it can have on your mental health. With your physical appearance changing, many people experience a direct hit to their self-esteem and confidence, which can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.

Causes and Risk Factors of Vitiligo

While the exact cause of vitiligo is still unknown, many researcher believe it to be the result of several different factors. The main reason for vitiligo, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, is the lack of melanin in the skin due to the body attacking the melanin which is responsible for giving color to the skin. It’s believed that this can be triggered by the following:

  • An autoimmune condition: the body’s immune system mistakes melanocytes as foreign invaders that can cause harm to your body, such as bacteria, and attack and destroys them. This can also lead to the overproduction of antibodies that continue to destroy the melanocytes.
  • Changes in genetics: A genetic mutation or change in your body’s DNA can affect the production of melanin. Currently, there are over 30 genes that have been identified as risk factors for vitiligo.
  • Stress: chronic emotional stress or physical stress on your body, particularly after an injury, can alter the amount of pigment your melanocyte cells produce.
  • Environmental triggers: Exposure to environmental factors, such as ultraviolet radiation and toxic chemicals can affect the functioning of melanocyte cells.
  • Genetics: research has found that approximately 30% of vitiligo case are hereditary.

Ways to Treat Vitiligo

Treatment for vitiligo is not necessary as the condition is cosmetic and not harmful to the body. However, there are options available that can help with restoring skin color (repigmentation) and eliminating remaining color (depigmentation). There are also some really great treatments, self-care practices and home remedies that can help with the emotional stress and mental health concerns that can follow this skin condition.

Let’s explore the best option for you.


While there is no cure for vitiligo, there are medications that can help slow down the depigmentation process or even restore skin color to reduce the appearance of vitiligo. These typically work by either suppressing the immune system’s attack on melanocytes or stimulating the growth and activity of these cells:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Topical Janus kinase inhibitors such as ruxolitinib
  • Calcineurin inhibitors


There are also some forms of surgery that can be used a treatment for vitiligo. This includes skin grafting, taking healthy skin from one part of your body and using it to cover areas affected by vitiligo and blister grafting, which uses a suction to create a blister and the top of the blister is removed and attached to the discolored skin. These options can lead to scarring and infection, and they may not always work.

Depigmentation Therapy

This type of therapy involves removing the remaining color of your natural skin tone to match the areas of your skin that have been affected by vitiligo. In other words, it turns your skin white to match the areas of your skin that have vitiligo.

Light Therapy

Another common treatment for vitiligo that can help restore color to your skin is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This treatment involves using light boxes, ultraviolet B (UVB) lights, or medical-grade lasers directed at your skin. Several light therapy sessions may be required to see noticeable results on your skin but the good news is that it can be done at home with a SAD lamp.

Mental Health Treatments

If you’re struggling with emotional and mental health symptoms that can follow a vitiligo diagnosis, there are many treatment options available. Seeing a counselor or therapist can help you work through your emotions and limited beliefs, learn how to manage depression and anxiety, and get you back to your confidence self once again. There are also many therapeutic activities you can do at home to have a similar affect and boost on your overall self-esteem, such as:

  • Journaling
  • CBT journals
  • Practicing self-care, such as taking a calming bath and visiting a spa
  • Using positive affirmations each day, such as “I am beautiful just the way I am”
  • Meditation and yoga for managing stress, anxiety and depression

Vitiligo is a skin condition that affects many people around the world, causing a loss of pigment in the skin. It is typically only cosmetic with no risk to your physical health but it can take a toll on your emotional and mental health. The good news: there are many treatment options available that can help restore your skin color, prevent the further loss of color and get you back to looking and feeling like yourself again.

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