Vitiligo is a relatively common skin condition which occurs when melanocytes – pigment cells – are destroyed and skin becomes white

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What does it look like? Well-defined areas of skin whiter than surrounding skin.

Most likely condition: Vitiligo. This relatively common skin condition, which affects between one and two per cent of the population, occurs when melanocytes – pigment cells – are destroyed and skin becomes white. The most common sites of pigment loss are body folds like armpits, and exposed areas like the face or hands. It can also develop at sites of injury, such as cuts, scrapes and burns.  

Why do I have it? According to the Vitiligo Association of Australia, it may be associated with a number of autoimmune conditions such as thyroid disease and diabetes. However, most people with vitiligo are in good health and have no symptoms other than areas of pigment loss. Although the precise cause is unknown, there seems to be a hereditary link. Trauma to the skin, anxiety and stress may also be a cause.

Outlook: Vitiligo can remain localised and stable indefinitely, or it may progress slowly or rapidly. Unfortunately there is no way to predict this. Emotional distress, physical illness, severe sunburn and pregnancy may also cause further pigment loss. However, de-pigmented areas may sometimes spontaneously re-pigment.

Treatment: A dermatologist is the best person to assess and manage your vitiligo. And the good news is there are a number of treatment options available including camouflage using make-up and self tanning lotions; micro-tattooing may be useful for small stable areas of vitiligo such as face, lips and hands; light therapy; the transfer of a patient’s own pigment cells from unaffected skin into the vitiligo-affected cells and laser treatments.

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