Vitiligo is a condition that causes areas of the skin to lose pigment and turn white. Any area of the body can be affected and most people have vitiligo in several areas of the body. The condition develops when pigment-forming cells called melanocytes are destroyed. Melanocytes are what provide skin with its color. About two percent of the population has vitiligo, and although it's more noticeable in darker-skinned people, it affects all races equally. It typically occurs between the ages of 10 and 30, and nearly all people who develop vitiligo do so before the age of 40.
The underlying cause of melanocyte destruction is unknown, but researchers believe the body's immune system may play a role. Some researchers also believe the condition may be more prevalent among people who have family members with the disease, and studies have found men and women whose families have a history of premature development of gray hair are also at an increased risk.
Today, there are several medical techniques that can help restore pigment or “smooth out” pigment so areas appear less noticeable. Topical creams to reduce inflammation that may play a role in melanocyte death may be prescribed, either alone or in conjunction with vitamin D creams, laser treatments or ultraviolet light therapy. Widespread vitiligo may be partially camouflaged with ointments that help remaining pigment become lighter so they blend more readily with affected areas. It can take several months for any of these approaches to show results, and some patients may need to try several approaches before finding one that works. When none of these approaches work, skin grafts can be used to transfer unaffected skin to affected areas or special medical tattooing techniques can be used to re-pigment the area.
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