Vitiligo is a condition that causes skin (and sometimes hair) to lose its color and become white, a process called depigmentation. It is believed to be an auto-immune condition in which the body's infection-fighting system, called the immune system, attacks healthy pigment producing cells. These cells are responsible for producing color for our hair and skin, and without them, the skin patches and/or become white. It is neither contagious nor life threatening, but it can be a lifelong condition.
It usually affects all ages and both genders, and presents in childhood or adolescence. Most patients experience patches of depigmented skin that come and go, on trunk, face, extremities and sometimes even inside the mouth and genital areas. Usually asymptomatic, it can cause itch or pain in a very small subset of patients. It is more common in patients with strong family history of vitiligo, and in patients with auto-immune thyroid disease like Hashimoto's or with alopecia areata.
Treatment options for vitiligo:
use of cosmetics to make vitiligo less noticeable
prescribed medication including corticosteroids, calcineurin inhibitors and newer agents like topical tofactinib (Xeljanz)
laser light treatments to help control the overactive immune system and restore lost color
punch graft technique for resistant vitiligo patches or for areas that do not repigment easily, like hands, feet, eyelids and around lips
aggressive sun protection to minimize sun damage to depigmented skin.
Talk to your dermatologist if you notice any changes in the color of your skin. You may need additional workup or testing to rule out associated auto-immune diseases. You can also visit www.vitiligosupport.org for vitiligo support groups.