What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo (leukoderma) is a non-contagious, genetic, skin disorder in which the skin loses it’s pigment in patches or spots because of a loss of melanocytes (the skin’s pigment cells). Where vitiligo affects the scalp or other hair bearing regions of the body the hair will also lose its pigment leading to white streaks.

There are two common theories on what happens in the body. One theory is that the immune system for some reason attacks and destroys the melanocytes. The other theory is that for some reason the melanocytes in a particular region turn on each other and destroy themselves. Vitiligo is neither medically dangerous nor physically painful, though the affected person can suffer from emotional or social trauma from the stigma attached to how it changes their appearance.

One thing that a person affected by vitiligo should keep in mind is that prolonged exposure to sunlight may burn the affected areas which can lead to a worsening of the condition. It is recommended that if long exposure to the sun is expected that the affected areas should be covered or protected by UV blocking lotions (SPF 30 or above), long pants, long sleeve shirts and/or wide brimmed hats. This protection will also help to minimize the noticeable difference in color between the vitiligo affected and not affected portions of the skin. Vitiligo affects 1 to 2% of the population both male and female of any race. Research has found that 50% of cases have developed between the ages of 10 and 30, and 95% of cases occur before age 40.

What causes vitiligo?

Vitiligo is associated with a malfunction of the body’s immune system. Doctors are unsure exactly what is the root cause of the disorder other than heredity. Doctors have, however, linked certain events with the onset of vitiliginous patches such as a bad sunburn, trauma to the skin through excessive rubbing, or very stressful life situations.

Is there a cure for vitiligo?

Although vitiligo is a treatable condition there is no cure. Patients can undergo many different vitiligo treatments to regain pigment in the affected areas, but repigmentation may not be 100% or permanent.

Can phototherapy treat vitiligo?

Phototherapy is the use of specific segments of the ultraviolet light spectrum to treat psoriasis, vitiligo, and other skin disorders. The skin is exposed to the light delivered by a phototherapy unit. Hand-held and table-top phototherapy units are used for spot treatment of skin areas or full cabinet units are used for patients requiring full body treatment. Exposure to the specialized light reduces or eliminates the symptoms of the skin disease. There are many sources of information available on the internet and from your physician about vitiligo treatment and we encourage you to do your research. Here we are providing just a sampling of the vitiligo phototherapy treatments that are available. Please consult your dermatologist to find a treatment regimen that is right for you. Depending on the severity of the affectation your dermatologist may prescribe protocols involving:

  • Narrowband UVB
  • Combination UVA and Broadband UVB
  • Psoralen baths or soaks plus UVA
  • Psoralen lotion plus Ultraviolet A
  • Systemic Psoralen plus UVA

The Daavlin Company is a manufacturer of phototherapy equipment in UVA, Narrowband  UVB and Broadband UVB and combinations of these. Information is available for patients looking to acquire a unit for home use and also for dermatologists seeking to buy for their clinic environment.

Where can I find more information?

Many of these support organizations can provide additional information about this condition.


Zanolli MD, Feldman SR. Phototherapy Treatment Protocols for Psoriasis and Other Phototherapy Responsive Dermatoses. London: Taylor & Francis; 2005.

What is Vitiligo? Vitiligo Support International. https://vitiligosupport.org/what-is-vitiligo/. Published 2005.

Answers about Vitiligo. Answers.com. https://www.answers.com/t/vitiligo.

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