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What causes vitiligo?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The exact cause of vitiligo is not known, but researchers believe that this skin condition that causes white patches all over the body has both environmental and genetic causes. One possible theory is that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, a type of condition that causes the body's immune system to mistakenly attack itself. Three genes have been discovered that may be responsible for causing the immune system to attack and kill the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin. Melanocytes produce melanin, the chemical that give skin its color. Without melanin, the skin is colorless.

But vitiligo may also be caused by a problem inside the melanocytes themselves, or it may have a neurological (nerve-related) component. That's because the white patches sometimes follow along the path of the nerves. Areas of the skin that are exposed to pressure such as bony elbows, knees, and ankles or to rubbing (mouth, eyes, and genitals) can turn white in vitiligo-prone people. Other traumatic events such as sunburn, physical trauma, and emotional stress can also trigger vitiligo.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.