What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that presents as white spots on the skin. It often shows up in young individuals, but can develop at any age. Affecting an estimated 6 million Americans, this condition can have profound impacts on the social, professional, and psychological well-being of those with vitiligo. While most noticeable in patients with darker skin, vitiligo impacts all races and ethnicities.

Symptoms of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is marked by the loss of color in the skin that leads to irregular white spots, and can sometimes involve the hair as well. Some individuals will experience itching and discomfort with the development of these spots, but for most the spots develop silently. Sometimes people will note that new spots of vitiligo will develop in areas of previous skin injury. Vitiligo is often first noticed after exposure to the sun that tans the surrounding skin making the spots more visible.

Causes of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is not contagious. As an autoimmune condition, vitiligo is caused by the immune system attacking melanocytes, the cells in the skin that make pigment. It is also associated with other autoimmune conditions. By studying families of individuals with vitiligo, we have determined that part of vitiligo is genetic. Exposures to certain medications or chemicals can also cause vitiligo.

Diagnosis of Vitiligo

Diagnosis of vitiligo is usually made by a skin exam by an experienced professional. The pigment or absence of pigment can be confirmed by using a Woods lamp during the skin examination or a skin biopsy.

Treatment of Vitiligo

There is currently no cure for vitiligo, but vitiligo is treatable.  Different individuals will respond differently, and treatment for vitiligo needs to be tailored for an individual’s situation.  Treatment options include:

  • Anti-inflammatory creams and ointments
  • Phototherapy
  • Surgery and melanocyte transplants

Progress has been made in developing treatment options for vitiligo over the last 5 years.  As we continue to understand the underlying immune causes of vitiligo, new approaches to the treatment of vitiligo are being developed.

Please call 916-734-6111 and request to be scheduled to see one of our vitiligo specialists.

Victor Huang, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Clinical Dermatology

Director of the Vitiligo Clinic

Department of Dermatology

Full Bio

Oma Agbai, M.D.

Health Sciences Assistant Professor of Dermatology

Department of Dermatology

Full Bio