vitiligo, condition that causes irregular patches of skin to lose pigment and turn white. The exact cause is unknown, but it occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys melanocytes, the cells that make pigment; the skin does not become raised or painful. Commonly affected areas are the face, elbows and knees, hands and feet, and genitals. Vitiligo can appear at any age and may worsen over time; it is more noticeable in individuals with darker skin. Treatments include ultraviolet light therapy, topical corticosteroid or immunosuppressive creams or gels, skin grafts from normally pigmented areas, opaque foundation makeup and skin dyes to camouflage the affected area, and the depigmenting of the remaining normal skin in extensive cases. Although affected areas sunburn easily and may be associated with certain skin cancers, research has found that a common gene mutation may increase both the chance of vitiligo and lower the risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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