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The main sign of vitiligo is:

  • Pigment loss that produces milky-white patches (depigmentation) on your skin

Other less common signs may include:

  • Premature whitening or graying of the hair on your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard
  • Loss of color in the tissues that line the inside of your mouth (mucous membranes)
  • Loss of or change in color of the inner layer of your eye (retina)

Although any part of your body may be affected by vitiligo, depigmentation usually develops first on sun-exposed areas of your skin, such as your hands, feet, arms, face and lips. Genitals also may be affected. Although it can start at any age, vitiligo often first appears between the ages of 10 and 30. Vitiligo generally appears in one of three patterns:

  • Generalized. In this most common subtype, pigment loss is widespread across many parts of your body, often symmetrically.
  • Segmental. Loss of skin color occurs on only one side of your body. This type tends to occur at a younger age, progress for a year or two, then stop.
  • Focal. Depigmentation is limited to one or a few areas of your body.

The natural course of vitiligo is difficult to predict. Sometimes the patches stop forming without treatment. In most cases, pigment loss spreads and can eventually involve most of the surface of your skin.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if areas of your skin, hair or eyes lose coloring. Although there's no cure for vitiligo, treatments exist that may help to stop or slow the process of depigmentation and attempt to return some color to your skin.

Apr. 21, 2011