What is vitiligo?

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Vitiligo: Overview

Vitiligo (say "vi-tuh-LY-go") is a skin problem that happens when cells that make pigment are destroyed. Pigment gives skin its color.

Vitiligo causes white patches on areas of your body. The hair in these places may turn white. Sometimes, the white patches spread. Vitiligo affects people of all skin colors. It may be more noticeable in people with darker skin.

Vitiligo does not have to be treated. Some people choose to treat it if it is having an effect on their life.

Treatments include medicines, such as corticosteroids. Treatment can also include laser or light therapy. Less common treatments include surgery or removing the remaining pigment in your skin (depigmentation).

Special cosmetics or self-tanning products can also be used.

Doctors don't know what causes vitiligo. It may run in families. It may be an autoimmune problem. This means your immune system destroys your own pigment cells.

How can you care for vitiligo?

  • Put creams or ointments on your skin as directed by your doctor. Be careful if you put them around your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine.
  • If you have light therapy, your skin will be exposed to a special light. Follow your doctor's directions on caring for your skin.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. It is most important to protect the white patches. Use sunscreen, hats with wide brims, sunglasses, and clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • Talk to your doctor about sunless tanning products and concealers. You can buy these without a prescription.
  • Avoid getting tattoos. Damage to the skin from a tattoo can cause a new white patch to form.

Vitiligo: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The skin changes are getting worse.
  • You feel anxious or depressed.
  • You have questions about treatment.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.