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What are the causes of vitiligo?

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  • While vitiligo has been widely studied by researchers and professionals, the primary cause for this condition has not yet been determined
  • There have been numerous instances where chemicals deemed safe for human use or consumption have led to the death of the essential pigment-making cells in the skin, thus leading to vitiligo

While vitiligo has been widely studied by researchers and professionals, the primary cause of this condition has not yet been determined. The wide range of external and internal factors influencing the development of this disease has made it almost impossible for researchers to narrow in on a specific cause.

Factors that influence vitiligo development

Some of the factors that have been linked to the progression of vitiligo include the following:

Having an autoimmune disease — Due to the spontaneous destruction of the melanocytes in the skin, researchers have linked vitiligo to the immune response commonly observed in autoimmune diseases. According to a 2007 study from The New England Journal of Medicine, the risk of numerous autoimmune disorders is associated with DNA sequence variants in the NALP1 region. This shows that these autoimmune disorders, including vitiligo, are dependent on the innate immune system of individuals.1

Genetics — It is suggested that genetics play a part in development of vitiligo in families, with people having a higher risk for the disease if another family member has it.2 Having a first-degree relative with vitiligo increases a person’s risk by about seven- to 10-fold.3

Although genetics is one of the leading factors for the development of vitiligo, studies have also shown that people with a genetic predisposition to this condition do not automatically develop vitiligo in their lifetime. A twin study shows that environmental factors still play a part in the development of the disease, but the genetic factor still contributes a 23% increase in their risk.4

Oxidative stress — Studies suggest that oxidative stress may trigger the process of apoptosis in melanocytes. Oxidative stress and autoimmunity have been observed to interact with each other and produce a pathway that eventually leads to the destruction of the melanocytes.5

Skin trauma — Vitiligo may also be caused by a wide variety of skin trauma, from chemical exposure to physical damage. This hypothesis is also closely related to the autoimmune theory, with the trauma eventually triggering an autoimmune response against the melanocytes in the area.6

Stress — A 2015 study from the journal, Cutis, points to emotional distress as a possible trigger for vitiligo. 1,541 patients were evaluated to determine the role of psychological stressors on the progression of their skin condition. The researchers concluded that possible sources of distress should be part of the disease’s assessment.7

Chemical exposure and the development of vitiligo

There have been numerous instances where chemicals deemed safe for human use or consumption have led to the death of these essential pigment-making cells in the skin, thus leading to vitiligo.

  • Dimethyl sulfate — In a 2016 study from Anais Brasileriros de Dermatologia, researchers talked about two cases of leukoderma, or the hypopigmentation of certain parts of the skin. Two male patients exhibited depigmented patches on their neck, wrists and legs after exposure to dimethyl sulfate.8
  • Monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone (MBEH) — In the late 1930s, depigmentation was reported in workers who used gloves with MBEH with repigmentation eventually starting once their exposure to the chemical was removed. Today, monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone is used for depigmentation therapy for patients who have extensive vitiligo.9

MORE ABOUT VITILIGO

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What Is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo Symptoms

Vitiligo Causes

Types of Vitiligo

Vitiligo Treatment

Vitiligo Prevention

Vitiligo Diet

Vitiligo FAQ

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