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How to manage vitiligo while taking care of your skin

Sunscreen may be your best defense to help prevent the spread of vitiligo.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
smiley woman with vitiligo on her skin
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Thanks to notable examples in music, pop culture, and fashion, vitiligo is more visible than ever. But what is it, and what causes it? 

Vitiligo manifests as light patches on the skin due to a lack of pigment. Vitiligo patches can affect all parts of the body or just one area.¹ Although many people with the condition focus on how to prevent vitiligo, there is no cure.

At Curology, we think vitiligo is something that makes your skin naturally beautiful and unique. Still, we understand the patches can be a source of insecurity for some. If you want to minimize the spread of vitiligo, there are measures you can take that may help manage the condition. Here we’ll explain more about vitiligo, its potential contributing factors, and how to minimize its appearance. 

Getting to know vitiligo

Vitiligo is a skin condition characterized by depigmented patches on the skin. These flat, lighter areas of skin, often called macules or patches, are surrounded by areas of normally colored skin. Vitiligo generally begins on the hands, forearms, feet, and face but can spread to all areas of the body, including the hair.² 

Vitiligo has been classified into two major forms:³

  • Non-segmental vitiligo includes different variants, with generalized and acrofacial vitiligo being the most common subtypes. Generalized vitiligo appears as patches of depigmentation anywhere on the body and may begin in childhood or early adulthood. Whereas acrofacial vitiligo is limited to the areas around the mouth, extremities, and face.

  • Segmental vitiligo has a rapid onset and appears as depigmented macules distributed in a segmental pattern. In segmental vitiligo, the head is most often involved. One of the distinguishing differences between segmental and non-segmental vitiligo is that segmental vitiligo often has an initial spreading that can last up to two years and then for some, it becomes stable.

Here are some mild vitiligo pictures to give you an idea of what the condition can look like: 

What causes vitiligo?

The cause of vitiligo is not fully understood, nor is it known for sure whether vitiligo is hereditary. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is a hereditary component, but that doesn’t mean everyone with vitiligo in their family will develop the condition. Roughly half of those who develop vitiligo first see the signs before the age of 20, and they often have a relative with the condition.⁴ 

We do know vitiligo is an autoimmune disease⁵ that affects people of all races and skin colors. There are several signs that an individual has an increased likelihood of developing vitiligo:⁶ 

  • A blood relative has vitiligo.

  • A blood relative has another autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid or initiates hair loss (alopecia areata). 

  • The individual has melanoma. 

  • The individual is receiving immunotherapy to treat melanoma. 

Inheriting certain genes may increase the risk of vitiligo being triggered by certain events such as severe sunburn, injured skin (cuts, scrapes, burns), or chemicals (such as phenol) coming into contact with the skin.⁷

Where does vitiligo occur on the body?

Vitiligo may initially appear on the hands, forearms, feet, and face but can spread to other areas of the body. Vitiligo forms symmetrical white patches that can be oval-shaped, round, or linear. The borders are well-defined and usually convex. Patches can be small or cover large areas of the skin. Often, vitiligo patients will develop white spots at a trauma site, such as a burn or cut. When vitiligo appears on the face, it tends to occur around the eyes or mouth.⁸

Although vitiligo occurs in people of all races and skin tones, it is more noticeable in those with darker skin types. It also varies in appearance from person to person. Some people may only get small patches in localized areas, while others get large patches that cover significant portions of their body.⁹ People with vitiligo may be more prone to sunburn, skin cancer, and eye or ear problems (depending on the progression).¹⁰ 

How to manage vitiligo successfully

Vitiligo treatment relies on topical medications, phototherapy (light therapy), and surgery, although surgical treatment options are only effective for segmental or localized vitiligo involving a small area.¹¹ Vitiligo treatment outcomes are varied, though management is focused on halting the disease, stabilizing depigmented lesions, and stimulating repigmentation.¹² 

If you’re wondering how to prevent vitiligo naturally, understand that there is no way to prevent this condition from developing if you are susceptible. However, there are methods that may help vitiligo patches appear less noticeable. Here’s a detailed explanation: 

  • Wear sun protection. Melanin is the body’s natural way of protecting itself from the sun. People with vitiligo have areas of the body absent of melanin, leaving them more susceptible to sun damage.¹³ Whether you have vitiligo or not, you should protect yourself from the sun every day. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher before leaving the house and reapply every two hours. Choose a sunscreen formulated for your skin type or condition

  • Avoid tanning beds or sun lamps. There’s no such thing as a healthy tan unless it's sunless. Tanning beds emit mostly UVA rays and are as strong or stronger than the sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, tanning beds substantially increase your risk of melanoma. Tanning beds have also been associated with ocular melanoma and eye damage.¹⁴ 

  • Avoid tattoos. Injuries, such as those caused by tattoos, can lead to something called Koebner phenomenon, which can cause new spots of vitiligo to appear. In addition, attempting to cover vitiligo with a tattoo may not result in the desired outcome. The ink may not blend with your natural skin color, and there is a chance the vitiligo you’re trying to cover will continue to spread.¹⁵

vitiligo disease effects

What causes vitiligo?

The cause of vitiligo is not fully understood, nor is it known for sure whether vitiligo is hereditary. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is a hereditary component, but that doesn’t mean everyone with vitiligo in their family will develop the condition. Roughly half of those who develop vitiligo first see the signs before the age of 20, and they often have a relative with the condition. 

We do know vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that affects people of all races and skin colors. There are several signs that an individual has an increased likelihood of developing vitiligo: 

  • A blood relative has vitiligo.

  • A blood relative has another autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid or initiates hair loss (alopecia areata). 

  • The individual has melanoma. 

  • The individual is receiving immunotherapy to treat melanoma. 

Inheriting certain genes may increase the risk of vitiligo being triggered by certain events such as severe sunburn, injured skin (cuts, scrapes, burns), or chemicals (such as phenol) coming into contact with the skin.

Where does vitiligo occur on the body?

Vitiligo may initially appear on the hands, forearms, feet, and face but can spread to other areas of the body. Vitiligo forms symmetrical white patches that can be oval-shaped, round, or linear. The borders are well-defined and usually convex. Patches can be small or cover large areas of the skin. Often, vitiligo patients will develop white spots at a trauma site, such as a burn or cut. When vitiligo appears on the face, it tends to occur around the eyes or mouth.

smiling woman with vitiligo on her face

Although vitiligo occurs in people of all races and skin tones, it is more noticeable in those with darker skin types. It also varies in appearance from person to person. Some people may only get small patches in localized areas, while others get large patches that cover significant portions of their body. People with vitiligo may be more prone to sunburn, skin cancer, and eye or ear problems (depending on the progression). 

How to manage vitiligo successfully

Vitiligo treatment relies on topical medications, phototherapy (light therapy), and surgery, although surgical treatment options are only effective for segmental or localized vitiligo involving a small area. Vitiligo treatment outcomes are varied, though management is focused onhalting the disease, stabilizing depigmented lesions and stimulating repigmentation. 

If you’re wondering how to prevent vitiligo naturally, understand that there is no way to prevent this condition from developing if you are susceptible. However, there are methods that may help vitiligo patches appear less noticeable. Here’s a detailed explanation: 

  • Wear sun protection. Melanin is the body’s natural way of protecting itself from the sun. People with vitiligo have areas of the body absent of melanin, leaving them more susceptible to sun damage. Whether you have vitiligo or not, you should protect yourself from the sun every day. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher before leaving the house and reapply every two hours. Choose a sunscreen formulated for your skin type or condition

  • Avoid tanning beds or sun lamps. There’s no such thing as a healthy tan unless it's sunless. Tanning beds emit mostly UVA rays and are as strong or stronger than the sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, tanning beds substantially increase your risk of melanoma. Tanning beds have also been associated with ocular melanoma and eye damage. 

  • Avoid tattoos. Injuries, such as those caused by tattoos, can lead to something called Koebner phenomenon, which can cause new spots of vitiligo to appear. In addition, attempting to cover vitiligo with a tattoo may not result in the desired outcome. The ink may not blend with your natural skin color, and there is a chance the vitiligo you’re trying to cover will continue to spread.

woman applying sunscreen on her skin

Living with vitiligo

Nobody can predict how much skin will ultimately become affected by vitiligo. Vitiligo is not life-threatening, but it is a medical condition that should be monitored by a dermatologist or medical provider who manages this condition. Unfortunately, for some, vitiligo can negatively affect self-esteem and quality of life. If you feel this way, consider reaching out to your dermatology provider or healthcare provider, who can provide you with resources to help you cope with these emotions. 

Curology SPF Lip Balm and Sunscreen

Take care of your skin with Curology

Curology was founded in 2014 by board-certified dermatologist Dr. David Lortscher with a mission to make effective skincare accessible. Although we don’t treat all skin conditions, we provide general information on various skin concerns with articles like this. 

At Curology, we currently focus on the treatment of acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat vitiligo, but we feel it’s important to understand what vitiligo is and, if you have it, to know you’re not alone. An important part of loving your skin is taking good care of it. If you’re looking for treatment options for acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, or fine lines and wrinkles, we’re here to help. We make it easy for you to get expert advice from licensed dermatology providers. If Curology is right for you, they’ll personalize a prescription formula for your unique skin, and they’ll be with you every step of the way to answer any skin questions you may have. Get started by signing up today.

FAQs

What causes vitiligo?

The cause of vitiligo is not fully understood, nor is it known for sure whether vitiligo is hereditary. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is a hereditary component, but that doesn’t mean everyone with vitiligo in their family will develop the condition. Roughly half of those who develop vitiligo first see the signs before the age of 20, and they often have a relative with the condition. 

Where does vitiligo occur on the body?

Vitiligo may initially appear on the hands, forearms, feet, and face but can spread to other areas of the body. Often, vitiligo patients will develop white spots at a trauma site, such as a burn or cut. When vitiligo appears on the face, it tends to occur around the eyes or mouth.

How to manage vitiligo successfully?

Vitiligo treatment relies on topical medications, phototherapy (light therapy), and surgery, although surgical treatment options are only effective for segmental or localized vitiligo involving a small area.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Bergqvist C, Ezzedine K. Vitiligo: A Review. Dermatology. (2020).

  2. Ahmed jan N, Masood S. Vitiligo. StatPearls Publishing. (January 2022).

  3. Bergquist, C. and Ezzedine, K. Vitiligo: A review. Dermatology. (2020).

  4. American Academy of Dermatology. Vitiligo: Causes. Ibid.

  5. Spritz, R. and Andersen, G. Genetics of vitiligo. Dermatologic Clinics. (April 2017).

  6. American Academy of Dermatology. Vitiligo: Causes. Ibid.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Vitiligo: Causes. Ibid.

  8. Jan, N.A. and Masood, S. Vitiligo. StatPearls. (2022 August 8).

  9. Jan, N.A. and Masood, S. Vitiligo. StatPearls. Ibid.

  10. Jan, N.A. and Masood, S. Vitiligo. StatPearls. Ibid.

  11. Jan, N.A. and Masood, S. Vitiligo. StatPearls. Ibid.

  12. Bergqvist C, Ezzedine K. Vitiligo: A Review. Dermatology. Ibid.

  13. American Academy of Dermatology. Vitiligo: Self-care. (n.d.).

  14. American Academy of Dermatology. Indoor tanning. (n.d.).

  15. American Academy of Dermatology. Vitiligo: Self-care. Ibid.

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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