Patches of skin lose color or pigment due to vitiligo, a chronic autoimmune disease. Around 1% of people worldwide are affected by the disease. The loss of pigment occurs when melanocytes, the pigment-producing skin cells, are attacked and destroyed by the body’s cells, turning the skin milky white. The white spots of vitiligo typically present symmetrically on both sides of your body, like both hands and both knees. Sometimes, a huge area of the skin is affected.

As an autoimmune illness, those with vitiligo can also have other autoimmune diseases. Sometimes, it is hereditary, meaning their relatives may also have the condition.

Permanent, smooth, white, or pale spots or patches are characteristic of vitiligo. It usually starts on your face, feet, forearms, and hands and then develop in other parts of the body.

Symptoms Of Vitiligo

In some cases, symptoms can be mild and affect a small area of your body. Unfortunately for some, it can be severe and affect a large area of your skin.

  • Loss of skin color

    It often starts as a pale patch of skin that later on becomes white. If there are plenty of blood vessels underneath the patch, it appears pink rather than white.

  • Varying patch size

    The presentation of the patches varies from person to person. Some people have small patches while others can develop patches that cover a large area of skin.

  • Itchiness

    The patches of vitiligo do not usually cause discomfort but they can be itchy.

  • Hearing loss

    Aside from the eye, the ear can also be inflamed and lead to hearing loss.

  • Premature whitening or graying of hair

    Sometimes vitiligo can also affect hair roots on your scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, beard, and mustache. When it does, the lack of melanin can turn your hair strands white or gray.

  • Inflammation in the eye

    Apart from skin manifestation, the eye can be affected in some cases of vitiligo. Inflammation of the iris and the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, can occur.

Causes Of Vitiligo

The exact cause of vitiligo is still unknown but research suggests that it could be due to:

  • Autoimmunity
  • Genetics
  • Emotional distress
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • Chemical exposure
  • Neurochemicals

White Spots Or Patches On Your Skin?

You may have vitiligo. Consult our MOH-accredited dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan.

Common Causes Of Vitiligo

You may be at risk for developing vitiligo if:

  • There is a familial history of vitiligo.
  • There is a familial history of other autoimmune diseases.
  • You have other autoimmune diseases.
  • You have cancers such as melanoma (skin cancer) or non-Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system).
  • You have a genetic mutation that is linked to non-segmental vitiligo.
  • You are exposed to sunlight often and get severe sunburns.
  • You are exposed to chemical substances frequently.

Diagnosing Vitiligo

During your consultation, your dermatologist may perform one or more of the following for your diagnosis.

  • Medical History

    Questions about any history of vitiligo and other autoimmune diseases in the family, other conditions you may have, previous skin injuries, and treatments that have been tried will be asked.

  • Physical Examination

    The doctor will examine the areas of affected skin. If available, a UV lamp called Wood’s lamp will be used to look at your skin closely and in more detail.

  • Blood Tests

    Blood tests may also be requested to rule out other concomitant illnesses that are linked with vitiligo.

Dr Noor Hanif Said

Medical Director & Consultant Dermatologist

Over 20 years of experience
in medical, Surgical & aesthetic Dermatology

  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS, Singapore)
  • Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP, United Kingdom)
  • Fellow Of The Academy of Medicine, Singapore (FAMS, Dermatology)

Prior to starting his private practice at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, Dr Hanif was a dermatologist at the National Skin Centre and a Visiting Consultant with the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Dermatology Service.

Apart from his expertise in the management of general dermatological problems such as eczema, psoriasis, hair loss and acne, he has special interests in pigmentary disorders and aesthetic dermatology.

Treatment Options For Vitiligo

Your dermatologist will prescribe a personalized treatment plan based on your needs and expectations. Here are some common treatment options for vitiligo.

  • Medications

    Certain drugs like corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, vitamin D analogues, calcineurin inhibitors, and ruxolitinib can slow the speed of pigmentation loss and help produce melanocytes to bring back color to your skin.

  • Light therapy

    Light therapy or phototherapy can help return color to your skin by using ultraviolet B light. Several sessions are necessary to see results.

  • Psoralen UVA (PUVA)

    Ultraviolet A combined with oral psoralen (PUVA) can treat widespread vitiligo.

  • Surgery

    Surgery via skin grafting or blister grafting can be a treatment option for those with only small affected areas.

  • Depigmentation therapy

    For widespread vitiligo, instead of bringing back the natural color of the skin, depigmentation therapy will remove it so that the rest of your skin matches the skin affected with vitiligo.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    What other conditions can look like vitiligo?

    The following conditions may look like vitiligo because they also make your skin lose pigmentation:

    • Albinism– a genetic condition that causes low levels of melanin in your skin, hair, and/or eyes
    • Pityriasis alba– red, scaly patches of skin are replaced with light patches
    • Chemical leukoderma- splotchy or linear white areas of skin due to exposure to industrial chemicals
    • Tinea versicolor– a type of yeast infection that can cause light spots on dark skin
    Can vitiligo be prevented?

    Since vitiligo can have different causes, there isn’t a single way to prevent it. However, you can reduce your risk by:

    • Staying out of the sun or protecting your skin from the sun by applying sunblock and covering your skin
    • Using hygiene and bath products that do not have harsh chemicals
    • Avoiding stress
    • Avoiding injury or damage to your skin
    • Having your other autoimmune conditions managed and controlled, if any