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Vitiligo is the patchy loss of skin pigmentation due to an auto-immune
attack by the body's own immune system on skin melanocytes. It
frequently begins in late adulthood with patches of unpigmented skin
appearing on extremities. The patches may grow, or remain constant in
size. Occasional small areas may repigment, as they are recolonized by
In some cases, mild trauma to an area of skin seems to cause new
patches - for example around the ankles (caused by friction with shoes
The condition is medically harmless, other than the problem that the
affected skin areas have no protection against sunlight - they burn
but never tan. However, if the skin is naturally dark, the visual
effect of the white patches may be considered disfiguring by some. (If
the affected person is of pale-skinned ancestry, the patches can be at
least be rendered less visible by the expedient of avoiding sunlight
and the tanning of unaffected skin.)
In some cultures there is a stigma attached to having vitiligo. Those
affected with the condition are sometimes thought to be evil or
diseased and are sometimes shunned by others in the community.
Because of the social stigma sometimes experienced by people with
vitiligo, steroids have been used to remove the white patches, but are
not very effective. Other more dramatic treatments include chemically
treating the patient to remove all pigment from the skin to present a
uniform skin tone. Current experimental treatments include exposure to
narrow-band UV light, which seems to have the effect of blurring the
edges of patches, and lightly freckling the affected areas.
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