Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes lighter patches to develop on a person’s skin. Vitiligo can affect people of all racial backgrounds. However, vitiligo may be more noticeable on people with darker skin.

Vitiligo happens as a result of a loss of pigmentation within a person’s skin. Cells called melanocytes produce the pigment melanin, which adds color to a person’s skin and hair.

When a person has vitiligo, melanocytes are destroyed, causing patches of skin and hair to become lighter.

Vitiligo by itself does not affect a person’s health. However, a person with vitiligo may have concerns about social stigma or ethnic identity issues.

This article will look into how vitiligo affects people of different racial groups, its causes, and how it can be treated.

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Vitiligo affects all racial groups similarly. However, as it is more noticeable on darker skin, people from certain racial groups may be more emotionally affected by vitiligo. Vitiligo can cause a person to experience:

A study from 2017 found that people with vitiligo who had darker skin experienced social stigma due to it being confused with leprosy.

Learn how to improve body image here.

Vitiligo is a relatively common condition, affecting around 0.5⁠–2% of people in the world. Vitiligo can develop at any age, but it usually occurs in people between 10 and 30 years old.

A study from 2016 found a relatively high level of people with vitiligo in Africa. This research also found that females had a higher chance of developing vitiligo. Further studies are required to determine these findings.

Research from 2020 noted that a study from the Shaanxi Province of China found a low level of people with vitiligo. This study also stated that research from India found regions with levels of vitiligo as high as 8.8%. However, both these studies require further research to determine their results.

The Vitiligo Research Foundation states that vitiligo prevalence can vary between 0.004⁠–9.98% depending on the region and age group.

Learn about vitiligo on black skin here.

Although the exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, certain factors may influence its development, such as:

Genetics

A person who has relatives with vitiligo may be more prone to developing it. Approximately one-fifth of people with vitiligo will also have at least one close relative with the condition.

Additionally, a person who has a sibling with vitiligo has a 6% chance of having the condition. Having an identical twin with vitiligo increases a person’s chance of developing it to 23%.

Evidence suggests that gene variations on more than 30 different genes can lead to a person developing vitiligo.

Stress

Stress can be a factor that influences the onset of vitiligo. Research from 2020 found that people with vitiligo had high perceived levels of stress. This indicates that people predisposed to developing vitiligo could find stress is a trigger for it developing or progressing.

Another study from 2020 notes that stress can cause melanocytes to release reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are a type of unstable molecule that reacts easily with other molecules inside a cell. If there is a build-up of ROS inside a cell, it can cause cell death, which could lead to vitiligo.

Chemicals

Certain chemicals may play a part in a person developing vitiligo. Chemical-induced vitiligo occurs when a person is exposed to chemicals that cause the death of melanocytes. Chemicals that can cause vitiligo to develop or worsen include:

  • monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone (MBEH), an antioxidant
  • 4-tert-butylcatechol (4-TBC), found in lubricating oil
  • 4-tert-butylphenol (4-TBP), found in an adhesive resin
  • 4-tert-amylphenol (4-TAP), found in detergents
  • para-phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical in hair dyes
  • Alta, a cosmetic coloring agent
  • rhododendrol, found in skin-lightening cream
  • phenol, found in cosmetics, detergent, disinfectant, drugs, etc.

Certain cases of chemical-induced vitiligo may be resolved over time. However, certain people with chemical-induced vitiligo will have it permanently.

Learn whether it is possible to prevent vitiligo here.

Evidence suggests that vitiligo may be an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is a condition that causes a person’s immune system to attack their tissues and organs. Vitiligo may be a result of a person’s immune system attacking their melanocytes.

Research indicates that approximately 15⁠–25% of people with vitiligo also have an additional autoimmune disorder, such as:

There are two main types of vitiligo a person may have:

Non-segmental vitiligo

Non-segmental vitiligo is the most common form of vitiligo. Non-segmental vitiligo is also known as:

  • bilateral vitiligo
  • vitiligo vulgaris
  • generalized vitiligo

Non-segmental vitiligo appears on both sides of a person’s body, such as on both shoulders. This form of vitiligo will often begin developing on a person’s hands, feet, or around the eyes or mouth.

If a person has non-segmented vitiligo, they may notice it begins with a rapid loss of pigment, followed by a pause. Pigment loss may start again at a later stage, before pausing again, and continue in this way.

Another characteristic of non-segmented vitiligo is a color loss that gradually expands, covering larger areas of the body.

Segmental vitiligo

Segmental vitiligo, also known as unilateral vitiligo, appears on just one area of the body, such as an arm or the face. Around half of the people who have segmental vitiligo also lose some pigment in their hair or body hair.

A person with segmental vitiligo will usually find it develops at a young age, then stops developing after a year or so.

Vitiligo causes a loss of pigment from a person’s skin. A person can develop vitiligo anywhere on their skin. Symptoms of vitiligo include:

  • patches of light or white skin
  • painful patches of depigmented skin
  • itchy patches of depigmented skin

Learn what else might cause white spots on the skin here.

There is currently no cure for vitiligo. However, there are various treatments available that can help ease symptoms. Treatment for vitiligo can depend on the form of vitiligo a person has, and the outcome they want to achieve.

  • Non-medical treatments: Non-medical treatments for vitiligo include self-tan, make up, and skin dye.
  • Topical medicine: A doctor can prescribe certain creams, such as corticosteroid cream, for vitiligo. Around 45% of people with vitiligo found skin regained some color over 4⁠–6 months. These creams usually work best on people with darker skin.
  • Light treatment: Light treatment involves a doctor using light to restore lost pigment to the skin. A doctor can use a light box or lasers to treat a person with vitiligo.
  • PUVA light therapy: PUVA light therapy uses UVA light and a medication called psoralen to treat vitiligo. Psoralen can be applied to the skin, or taken as a tablet.
  • Surgery: Surgery for vitiligo treatment generally involves removing patches of pigmented skin and placing them on areas where pigment has been lost.
  • Depigmentation: Depigmentation involves removing any remaining pigment from a person’s skin. Depigmentation leaves a person with completely white skin.

Learn more about treatment for vitiligo here.

Vitiligo by itself is not a harmful condition. Treating vitiligo can be for purely cosmetic reasons. A person may find they need to try several different treatments to find one that works for them.

How a person reacts to vitiligo treatment can depend on the type of vitiligo they have and how far it has progressed. A person seeking treatment for vitiligo should discuss their options with a doctor or dermatologist.

Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes a person to develop patches of light or white skin. Although vitiligo can be more noticeable on darker skin, it affects all races similarly.

Certain factors may make a person more likely to develop vitiligo, such as geographical region, family history of vitiligo, or stress. Although the exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, evidence suggests that it is an autoimmune disorder.

There are various treatments available for a person with vitiligo. A person who wants to treat their vitiligo should discuss options with their doctor or dermatologist.