What causes loss of skin color and what should I do about it?

Symptom Database

Loss of skin color, also known as skin depigmentation, can be a distressing condition for many individuals. It often manifests as white patches on the skin, leading to a significant change in appearance. One of the most common causes of skin discoloration is a condition called vitiligo. Understanding the causes and available treatments for this depigmentation disorder is crucial for those affected. In this article, we will explore the causes of skin discoloration, delve into the intricacies of vitiligo, and discuss potential treatment options.

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a chronic skin condition characterized by the loss of skin pigment, resulting in the development of white patches on the skin. It occurs when the cells responsible for producing melanin, known as melanocytes, are destroyed or stop functioning. Melanin is the pigment that gives color to our skin, hair, and eyes. When melanocytes are unable to produce melanin, the affected areas become depigmented, leading to the characteristic white patches.

Causes of Vitiligo

The exact cause of vitiligo remains unknown, but several factors are believed to contribute to its development:

  • Autoimmune disorder: Vitiligo is often associated with autoimmune diseases, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys its own cells, including melanocytes.
  • Genetic predisposition: Family history plays a role in the development of vitiligo, suggesting a genetic component to the condition.
  • Environmental triggers: Certain environmental factors, such as exposure to chemicals or trauma to the skin, may trigger the onset of vitiligo in susceptible individuals.

Symptoms of Vitiligo

The primary symptom of vitiligo is the appearance of white patches on the skin. These patches can occur anywhere on the body, including the face, hands, feet, and genital area. The patches may start small and gradually enlarge over time. In some cases, vitiligo can also affect the hair, causing premature graying or loss of color in the affected areas.

Treatment Options for Vitiligo

While there is currently no known cure for vitiligo, several treatment options are available to manage the condition and improve the appearance of the affected skin:

Topical Corticosteroids

Topical corticosteroids are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response in the affected areas. These creams or ointments can help to repigment the skin and minimize the contrast between the depigmented and normal skin.

Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors

Calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, are another class of topical medications used to treat vitiligo. They work by modulating the immune response and promoting repigmentation of the skin.


Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light to stimulate melanocyte activity and promote repigmentation. This can be done through narrowband UVB therapy or psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA) therapy, which combines the use of a light-sensitizing medication with UVA exposure.


In cases where vitiligo affects a large portion of the body, depigmentation may be considered as a treatment option. This involves lightening the remaining pigmented skin to achieve a more uniform appearance.

Lifestyle and Coping Strategies

Living with vitiligo can be emotionally challenging, as the condition may affect self-esteem and body image. However, there are several strategies that can help individuals cope with vitiligo:

  • Camouflage makeup: Using specialized makeup products can help conceal the white patches and even out the skin tone.
  • Sun protection: Protecting the depigmented skin from excessive sun exposure is crucial, as it is more susceptible to sunburn and damage.
  • Support groups: Joining support groups or seeking counseling can provide emotional support and a sense of community for individuals with vitiligo.


Loss of skin color, or vitiligo, can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical appearance and emotional well-being. While there is no cure for vitiligo, various treatment options are available to manage the condition and improve the appearance of the affected skin. It is essential for those affected by vitiligo to consult with a dermatologist to determine the most suitable treatment plan. Additionally, adopting lifestyle strategies and seeking emotional support can help individuals cope with the challenges associated with vitiligo. Remember, vitiligo does not define a person, and with the right support and management, individuals can lead fulfilling lives.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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