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About Vitiligo

Vitiligo (pronounced vit-ill-EYE-go) is a generally unpredictable skin disease, which results white patches appearing on the skin. Vitiligo is a non-lethal and it does not cause any organic harm, but it has a devastating effect on social life of the patient and their family.

Vitiligo is a life-long condition and it’s unlikely that you will ever be completely free of it. Vitiligo isn't contagious, so you can't catch it from other people or pass it on. It tends to spread over time, often for no apparent reason. The good news, a proper treatment protocol may effectively put it under control and reduce appearance of white patches.

Vitiligo Symptoms
Initially, the vitiligo may start as a patch that is slightly paler than the rest of your skin but will gradually become completely white. The edges of the patch may be smooth or irregular and may have an inflamed red border. Typically, vitiligo produces symmetrical depigmented areas of skin that otherwise appear perfectly normal. Learn more

How Many People Are Affected By Vitiligo?
The prevalence of vitiligo is believed to be between 0.5% to 2% of the world population on the average, but local numbers may vary greatly, depending on the region and age group (see World Vitiligo Map). The total number of people suffering from vitiligo is estimated at around 65-95 million people worldwide. However, the actual number may be much higher because vitiligo is an underreported disease.

What Is Known About Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a very complex skin disease. It is characterized by a sudden loss of melanin in the skin, which turns it milky white in irregular patches. Complete knowledge of its etiology has proved elusive, despite decades of intense research. Vitiligo is a chronic, persistent and often progressive disorder - spontaneous repigmentation is uncommon.

The current thinking is that vitiligo represents a group of different disorders with a similar outcome - the appearance of white patches on the skin. The convergence theory states that stress, accumulation of toxic compounds, infections, autoimmunity, genetic predisposition, altered cellular environment, and impaired melanocyte migration can all contribute to the initiation process of vitiligo. Autoimmune mechanisms likely underlie generalized vitiligo, while a more localized phenomenon (i.e. the altered activities of sensitive nerves in the skin) may be responsible for segmental or focal vitiligo. Vitiligo may also develop at the site of physical skin trauma - this is known as the 'Koebner phenomenon.'

Not all white patches on skin are vitiligo – in fact white patches resembling vitiligo are not unusual on the skin and are named leukodermas. Vitiligo is a specific form of leukoderma with distinct features that separate it from other leukodermas.

Chemical leukoderma can be induced by dyes, perfume, detergents, cleansers, insecticides, rubber condoms, rubber slippers, black socks and shoes, eyeliner, lip liner, lipstick, toothpaste, antiseptics with phenolic-derivatives, and mercuric iodide-containing germicidal soap. Chemical leukoderma may trigger occupational vitiligo or generalized vitiligo.

Occupational vitiligo may occur in those who work with depigmenting substances such as hydroquinone, paratertiary butyl catechol, paratertiary butyl phenol, paratertiary amyl phenol, and hydroquinone monomethyl ether. The only way to know if a depigmented patch on the skin is vitiligo or not is to consult a dermatologist with special interest in pigmentary disorders of the skin.

More information about vitiligo genetics is provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (link).

History of Vitiligo

The History of Vitiligo can be traced to as early as Rig Veda, an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns. The term vitiligo was perhaps derived from the Latin word 'vitelius' - used to describe the white flesh of calves. The first written use of the word to Celsus in his classic Latin book De Medicina in the first Century AD.