VitiligoThe variations in skin color and tone we see across the human race is limitless. This amazing diversity is determined by the amount of pigment known as melanin, which is produced by specialized pigment-forming skin cells called melanocytes. 

Vitiligo is a skin condition caused by the destruction of melanocytes. It can affect any location on the body, and it manifests as a conspicuous white patch or patches. Although vitiligo affects all ethnicities equally, it is most noticeable in patients with darker skin. Entertainer Michael Jackson was perhaps the most famous sufferer of vitiligo.

Vitiligo affects approximately 4 million Americans and about 3% of people worldwide. The condition normally develops after age 10, with 95% of those affected developing the disorder by age 40.

The exact cause of vitiligo is not known. I believe it is the end stage of several different disorders. In some disorders, melanocytes are attacked by the immune system and die. In others, the melanocytes are preprogrammed to die early. No matter what the cause, the ultimate result is white patches of skin devoid of melanin.

Because areas of vitiligo lack natural ultraviolet protection from melanin, those with the condition must wear sunscreen or sunblock to prevent ultraviolet radiation exposure and the risk of skin cancer. While vitiligo is usually not medically harmful, the effect on well-being and self-esteem can be considerable. That is why seeking treatment from a qualified specialist is critical.

In the majority of cases, vitiligo may be the result of an autoimmune or inflammatory attack on melanocytes. In these cases, topical anti-inflammatories and phototherapy, most notably narrow-band UVB, tend to be most effective. We have a success rate of approximately 75% in our clinic. The remaining cases are likely related to a genetic problem in the melanocytes, prompting them to die prematurely. With the appropriate treatment, signs of vitiligo can be reversed in approximately 1–2 months.

Those with vitiligo can find additional support and encouragement from Vitiligo Support International, a foundation that strives to locate, inform, and counsel vitiligo patients and their families.

Additional Vitiligo Information:
Crutchfield Dermatology

Published on 07/09/2009 | Last updated on 10/18/2018