Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes lighter patches to develop on the skin. Vitiligo can affect people of any race but may be more noticeable in people with darker skin.

Vitiligo occurs due to 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 someone 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 examines how vitiligo affects people of different racial groups, its causes, and how it can be treated.

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Vitiligo affects people of 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 more about the appearance of vitiligo on different skin tones.

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

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

A 2023 study in the United States found that vitiligo diagnosis was most common in the following race demographics.

GroupVitiligo prevalence
Hispanic/Latino patients0.29%
Asian American patients0.27%
Patients reporting other or multiple races0.24%
Black patients0.22%
White patients0.13%

However, this study only covered four census areas in the United States, so it is limited in its scope and conclusions.

Learn about vitiligo on black skin.

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


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

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

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


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 that stress is a trigger for its development or progression.

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 buildup of ROS inside a cell, it can cause cell death, which could lead to vitiligo.


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, detergents, disinfectants, and drugs

Certain cases of chemical-induced vitiligo may resolve over time. However, some people with chemical-induced vitiligo will have it permanently.

Learn whether it is possible to prevent vitiligo.

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 result from a person’s immune system attacking their melanocytes.

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

There are two main types of vitiligo:

Nonsegmental vitiligo

Nonsegmental vitiligo is the most common form of vitiligo. Nonsegmental vitiligo is also known as:

  • bilateral vitiligo
  • vitiligo vulgaris
  • generalized vitiligo

Nonsegmental vitiligo appears on both sides of a person’s body, including both shoulders. This form of vitiligo often develops on the hands, on the feet, or around the eyes or mouth.

If a person has nonsegmental vitiligo, they may notice that it begins with a rapid loss of pigment, followed by a pause. Pigment loss may resume later before pausing again and continue in this way.

Another characteristic of nonsegmental 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 people with segmental vitiligo also lose some pigment in their hair or body hair.

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

Vitiligo causes a loss of pigment in 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.

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

  • Topical medication: A doctor can prescribe certain creams, such as corticosteroid cream, for vitiligo. Around 45% of people with vitiligo found that their skin regained some color over 4⁠–6 months. These creams usually work best on people with darker skin.
  • Topical vitamin D3 analogs (D3A): These medications can help reduce vitiligo symptoms in combination with other treatments, such as steroids. Alone, they are typically not effective.
  • Light treatment: Light treatment involves a doctor using light to restore lost pigment to the skin. A doctor can use a lightbox 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. A person can apply psoralen to the skin or take it 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.
  • Calcineurin inhibitors: These are immunomodulators and an off-label treatment for vitiligo. Doctors commonly prescribe them for use in sensitive areas, such as the face and groin, and they are safer than steroids.

Learn more about treatment for vitiligo.

Vitiligo by itself is not a harmful condition. People may treat vitiligo for purely cosmetic reasons. A person may find that 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 people of all races similarly.

Certain factors may make a person more likely to develop vitiligo, such as geographic 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 vitiligo. A person who wants to treat their vitiligo should discuss options with their doctor or dermatologist.