What Causes Fading Skin (Vitiligo)

Vitiligo is a photosensitive condition, which means that the areas of your skin that are affected will be more sensitive to sunlight. Predicting whether the patches will spread, and by how much, is difficult; the spread sometimes takes weeks and other times the patches remain stable for months or even years.

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a medical condition in which growing patches of skin lose their color. The patches of skin that are losing their color appear when melanocytes within the skin die off. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for producing the skin pigment, melanin; melanin is what colors the skin and also what protects the skin from damaging UV rays. This is a rare condition, worldwide only between 0.5 and 2 % of people have this condition. It can affect people of any age, gender, or ethnic group.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Vitiligo?

Symptoms and signs of vitiligo include loss of skin color in the form of depigmented, or white, patches of skin in any location on the body. Vitiligo can be focal and localized to one area, or it may affect several different areas on the body. White patches on the skin can be more common in areas exposed to sunlight. People with vitiligo often have hair that turns gray early. Those with dark skin may notice a loss of color inside their mouths. 

These white patches of skin commonly form on the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips. Other common areas where white patches are found on the body can include:


  • The armpits and groin (where the leg meets the body)

  • Around and inside the mouth

  • Eyes

  • Nostrils

  • Navel

  • Genitals

  • Inner ear

  • Rectal areas


Vitiligo is a photosensitive condition, which means that the areas of your skin that are affected will be more sensitive to sunlight. Predicting whether the patches will spread, and by how much, is difficult; the spread sometimes takes weeks and other times the patches remain stable for months or even years.

The American Dermatology Association considers this to be a medical condition rather than a cosmetic one.  Melanocytes live in the skin, hair, lips, inside the mouth, inside the nostrils, genitals, rectum, eyes, and inner ear. The light-coloured patches on the skin occur when the body attacks these cells. Some will have more serious symptoms such as loss of hair color (hair develops a white streak), and if the skin is attacked on the inner ear then hearing loss can occur as a result.

What Causes Vitiligo?

We aren’t sure of the exact cause, although most experts believe that it is an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys certain cells within the body. 

These diseases happen when your immune system accidentally attacks some part of your own body. In vitiligo, the immune system can destroy the melanocytes in the skin. However, results on this are inconclusive and some researchers think that the melanocytes destroy themselves. Others think that a single event such as sunburn or emotional distress can cause vitiligo. More research is needed to determine what causes or triggers the onset of vitiligo. It may have a genetic component, as the condition seems to run in families. Although this condition can affect anyone, it is more noticeable in those with darker skin.  

Most people who have vitiligo will usually develop the condition prior to age 40; about half of the population that experiences these symptoms will notice them before age 20. It is not a painful condition and usually does not have significant health consequences, however, the emotional and psychological tolls can certainly be damaging to one’s mental health.

How Can Vitiligo be Treated?

There are treatments for this condition, but it is difficult to cure. There’s also no way to determine if it will spread or remain confined to one location on the body. Unfortunately, there is not yet a known way to prevent vitiligo from occurring or to keep symptoms from reoccurrence. 

There are no proven home remedies to cure vitiligo, but the use of sunscreens as well as clean makeup products to cover the light areas of your skin may improve appearance. Sephora has a great filter for shopping these ‘clean beauty’ products, and with any skin condition present, you want to make sure you are putting as little on your skin as possible (in terms of chemicals that may negatively impact your already sensitive skin). Clean products are considered those that are free of certain questionable and unwanted ingredients; this new wave of 'clean' makeup products goes far beyond the exclusion of parabens, sulphates, and phthalates from cosmetics. Clean cosmetics use organic more natural products and do not allow the inclusion of elements considered potentially toxic to our skin. The full list of blacklisted ingredients can be found here

Clients of the Idaho Skin Institute that have vitiligo have found the XTRAC LASER treatment helpful in reducing their symptoms/appearance. This is a narrow band UVB Excimer laser that uses ultraviolet light to treat the skin. It is also commonly used to treat several forms of psoriasis due to its improvement on patchy-looking skin.

There are a number of treatments available for vitiligo, however since there is not a lot of agreement in the medical community about its cause and prevention, treatments tend to be prescribed “off-label” ”, since they are not FDA-approved for vitiligo, yet are approved for other skin diseases. For example, topical steroids are widely available and have long been used to treat patients with vitiligo.

The practitioners at Idaho Skin Institute are experts in this type of skin condition, and since there is no one-size-fits-all approach, each treatment is tailored to the patient’s needs and severity of their symptoms. If you have this condition book an appointment at our clinic and let’s see how we can tailor a treatment plan to help.

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