Vitiligo is a rare skin disorder affecting only 0.5 to 1% of the world’s population. The disorder is characterized by white patches on the skin, which are caused by the breakdown of melanocytes, skin cells that produce melanin pigment. While scientists aren’t sure of the exact cause, the disorder likely has a genetic link, meaning that those who suffer from the disorder probably inherited faulty copies of certain genes from their parents that contribute to its onset. However, it is important to note that there is no definitive familial pattern. Vitiligo is thought to be an autoimmune condition, like hyperthyroidism or pernicious anemia, and those with previously existing autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop the disorder.¹ According to CNN, Michael Jackson is one public figure who suffered from the condition.
If you’ve read our previous post
, you’ll know that tanning occurs when melanocytes transfer melanin to another type of skin cell called keratinocytes. Since vitiligo patients have patches of skin devoid of melanocytes, they are not able to tan in these regions. Tanning, while an indicator of sun damage itself, does offer minimal protection against future sunburn. This means that those with vitiligo are more susceptible to sunburn and more serious sun-induced skin damage, like skin cancer, in depigmented regions of their skin.
Sun protection is undoubtedly important for those with the disorder, especially if depigmented patches are present on sun-exposed regions of the skin. Not only will sun protection help to reduce the risk of sunburn and future skin damage on sun-exposed depigmented patches, it will also prevent pigmented skin from darkening, which can emphasize the contrast between pigmented and depigmented regions of skin.¹