What causes vitiligo?

The precise cause of vitiligo is not well understood. The white areas appear due to loss of the pigment (melanin) that gives skin its color and protects it from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Factors such as stress, physical illness, skin damage, certain chemicals and drugs, pregnancy and severe sunburn may trigger or worsen vitiligo.

It remains unclear what causes damage to melanocytes and their subsequent total inactivation and/or disappearance in vitiligo skin. There are several theories; the most prominent are autoimmune, neurohumoral, related to abnormal detachment of melanocytes from the epidermal layers and autocytotoxic. None are mutually exclusive, and it is likely that each of them partially contribute to the disease development.

The current thought 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 vitiligo initiation process. Autoimmune mechanisms are likely to 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. A site of a skin physical trauma may develop vitiligo; it is called a “Koebner phenomenon.”

Abstract from Vitiligo Q&A  »»»

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