Vitiligo: you might have heard of it. It’s the skin condition in which patients lose skin color or pigmentation. Often the condition starts with small (lighter) patches, but over time the affected areas will only get bigger. Approximately 1% of the population thought the United States (but also the world) is affected by the condition. Everyone can develop vitiligo, no matter their gender, race, or age. This is why it’s important to know what vitiligo looks like, how it’s caused, and what you should do if you suspect you suffer from it. That way you are fully informed, and you don’t have to panic.
What Is Vitiligo and How Is It Caused?
We already told you vitiligo is a skin condition that affected someone’s skin color or pigmentation. It causes your skin to lose its pigment (or skin color), and affected patches will look lighter or have completely lost their pigment and looks white. Vitiligo spots smaller than 1 cm are called macules and if they’re bigger than 1 cm the spots are called patches. Vitiligo can happen everywhere on the body, from head to toe, and even on the inside of your mouth. It can also affect your (body) hair, which will turn white or silver.
Your skin and hair color is determined by something called melanin. If the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning, the skin (or hair) will eventually lose its color. This can happen because of an autoimmune disease, a genetic mutation, stress, and/or environmental triggers, like UV or toxic chemical exposure. Approximately 30% of vitiligo cases are genetic, which means the condition is hereditary, and you got it from a direct family member and chances are you may pass it on to your children.
Types of Vitiligo
There are 6 different types of vitiligo. These subtypes are determined based on where the skin condition is and if and where it spreads. Vitiligo subtypes are:
- Generalized; small spots appear on different areas of the body (most common).
- Segmental; only one side of the body or one area is affected, like the hands, shoulder, or face.
- Mucosal; affects mucous membranes of the mouth and/or genitals.
- Focal; macules appear in a small place and don’t spread within at least one year (rare).
- Trichome; patches appear as a bullseye with a white or colorless center, then an area of lighter pigmentation, and an area of your natural skin color.
- Universal; at least, 80% of your skin doesn’t have pigment (very rare)
Continue reading on the next page, and discover, among others, if you’re at risk for vitiligo and how you can recognize it.