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Color Loss in the Skin, Hair, and Eyes Are the Hallmark Signs of Vitiligo
White Patches on the Skin Are the Hallmark Sign of Vitiligo
The most obvious sign that someone has vitiligo is seeing white patches pop up on the skin. “These are usually significantly lighter than the patient’s normal skin and more obvious in those patients with darker skin types,” says Adrienne Haughton, MD, director of clinical and cosmetic dermatology at Stony Brook Medicine at Commack in New York. That’s simply because there’s a sharper contrast between the typical skin and the skin affected by vitiligo for people with dark skin. (6)
The vitiligo spots can occur anywhere on the body. (4) Usually, though, the patches will start in places that have been exposed to the sun, such as the hands, feet, arms, and face. They also tend to appear in the armpits, groin area, or in the belly button. (6)
Some people — especially those with dark skin — might also experience vitiligo inside their mouths, and their mouths may lose color. It’s also possible for vitiligo to affect the hair. These patients might experience early graying or whitening. This can affect not only the hair on the head, but eyebrows and eyelashes as well. The retina in the eye could also lose color. (4)
These spots typically first appear as paler-than-normal patches of skin that gradually turn slightly pink (when the body’s immune system is attacking the healthy melanocytes) and then, in many cases, almost completely white. (7) Some treatments may be more effective early on when the skin first starts to lose its pigment. (8)
It’s also worth noting that the white patches associated with vitiligo differ depending on the type of the disorder:
- Segmental Vitiligo People who develop vitiligo at a young age usually experience it on one side of the body, which is called segmental vitiligo. For these people, the disease will usually spread for one or two years and then halt. (4)
- Localized or Focal Vitiligo This is vitiligo that affects just a few parts of the body.
- Generalized Vitiligo The most common type of vitiligo, this results in the white patches appearing in the same area on each side of the body.
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