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Understanding Vitiligo

25 June is World Vitiligo Day. This rare, progressive, auto-immune condition can affect anyone, at any age and whilst research is continuing and advancing, there is still a large cultural and social stigma attached to the condition which requires continued awareness and education to overcome perceptions.

We’ve put together some information on Vitiligo based on the most frequently asked questions, as well as asked some of our patient ambassadors to share some of the things they wish people knew about the condition.


How Do You Pronounce “Vitiligo”?

The best possible explanation on how to pronounce Vitiligo is to break it down into 3 words which, read together, give the correct sound. To hear it correctly, say “Vittle – Eye- Go” (like ‘Little’ but with a V).

What Is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is an auto-immune condition in which pigment is lost from areas of the skin, causing white patches to appear. The darker someone’s skin tone, the more noticeable to patches are. It has also been known to affect pigment in hair and eyes, although this is usually less common.

Who does it affect?

According to the World Vitiligo Foundation, nearly 1% of the global population are affected by Vitiligo (almost 70 million people across the world). It affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities and genders and can present at any time. Globally, 20 – 30% of patients are children.

What Causes Vitiligo?

Vitiligo affects the immune system, which then affects the skin. It occurs when melanin-forming cells (melanocytes) are destroyed and stop producing Melanin – the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes colour. The involved patches of skin become lighter or white in colour.

What Are The Symptoms Of Vitiligo?

The main sign of vitiligo is loss of colour (pigment) on the skin in the form of white patches. Patches can appear on many parts of the body, on one side or only on a few areas of the body. Vitiligo can spread slowly, rapidly or not at all.

What Are The Side Effects Of Vitiligo?

While white patches on the skin are the only physical result of vitiligo, there are other side effects for people living with the condition. Vitiligo patches tend to burn more easily, making it difficult for those with the condition to spend time in the sun. Many who live with vitiligo experience social anxiety and difficulty coping emotionally, resulting in lowered self-esteem and often depression.

Is Vitiligo Contagious?

No, it is not contagious as it is a genetic disease.

Are There Different Types Of Vitiligo?

There are five classifications of vitiligo that are categorized by where depigmentation occurs on the body. These include focal, segmental, acro facial, generalised and universal.

How Do I Get Diagnosed For Vitiligo?

A dermatologist can provide a diagnosis, which can usually be determined by a physical exam. Your doctor might suggest a skin biopsy or blood test if they need more information to provide a concrete diagnosis.

Is There A Cure For Vitiligo?

No, there is not a cure for vitiligo because the actual cause is unknown.

Are There Treatments For Vitiligo?

There are several types of treatment for vitiligo including topical creams that control inflammation, medications, light therapy, laser therapy, skin grafting, and depigmentation. Treatments can help to restore skin colour but results vary, can be unpredictable and sometimes have side effects.


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