Vitiligo is a skin disease in which the skin loses pigment due to the destruction of melanocytes or pigment cells. Areas of the skin become white. The most common spots of pigment loss are body folds (such as the groin or armpits), around body openings and exposed areas like the face or hands. Occasional small areas may repigment as they are recolonised by melanocytes. Vitiligo is common; in fact 1 to 2% of the general population has it.
Medical researchers are not sure what causes Vitiligo. It frequently begins in late adulthood. Some researchers think the body may develop an allergy to its pigment cells; others think that the cells may destroy themselves during the process of pigment production. In some cases, mild trauma to an area of skin seems to cause new patches research on the cause is continuing. Its incidence is higher in people with thyroid conditions and some other metabolic diseases, but most people who have Vitiligo are in good health and suffer no symptoms other than areas of pigment loss. The location of vitiligo affected skin changes over time, with some patches re-pigmenting and others becoming affected.
In many cases, initial skin pigment loss will occur; then after several months, the number and size of the light areas become stable and may remain so for a long time. Episodes of skin pigment loss may appear again later on. Many vitiligo patients report that initial or later episodes of pigment loss followed by periods of physical or emotional stress, which seem to trigger depigmentation in those who are predisposed. Sometimes, depigmented areas may spontaneously repigment.
The skin disease is not medically a problem, but it is a problem mentally and socially to some people, other than the problem that the affected skin areas have no protection against sunlight, they burn but never tan. However, if the skin is naturally dark, the visual effect of the white patches may be considered disfiguring by some. Vitiligo is absolutely not a contagious skin disease. Vitiligo is not a cancerous or precancerous condition. People with skin cancer sometimes develop Vitiligo; in many of these cases, Vitiligo seems to stop the cancer from spreading.