Vitiligo: A Common Cause of Loss of Skin Pigment

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Vitiligo is a condition in which white patches develop on the skin. Any location on the body can be affected, and most people with vitiligo have white patches in many areas of the body.

Melanin is the pigment that gives the skin its characteristic color. Vitiligo is caused by a loss of pigment in the skin, due to destruction of pigment-forming cells known as melanocytes. Although vitiligo affects all races equally, it is more noticeable in dark-skinned people. Vitiligo can cause cosmetic problems.

Vitiligo affects 1-2% of the American population, and it is estimated that 2 to 4 million Americans have the condition. In most cases, vitiligo develops early in life, between the ages of 10 and 30 years. Ninety-five percent of those affected will develop the disorder before age 40. Both men and women are equally likely to develop vitiligo. Vitiligo may run in families; those with a family history of vitiligo or premature graying of the hair are at increased risk for the development of vitiligo. Other risk factors that increase one's chances of developing vitiligo include having autoimmune diseases, such as autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto's thyroiditis).