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 usage 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 that is commonly observed in autoimmune diseases. Because of their compromised immune systems, patients affected by other autoimmune diseases, like hyperthyroidism, have been observed to have a higher risk of contracting vitiligo.1

Genetics. Studies suggest that vitiligo usually happens in multiple cases in families, with members rarely having an isolated form of vitiligo. This suggests that vitiligo has a genetic or hereditary characteristic that may be passed on through bloodline.

But 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. Twin studies show that despite having identical DNAs, the twin of a vitiligo patient has only a 23 percent chance of developing vitiligo.2

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.3

Skin trauma. Vitiligo can also be caused by cuts, burns, abrasions or other forms of skin trauma, which can destroy the melanocytes in certain areas of the body.4

Stress. Emotional distress may influence the development of this skin disease. People who are subjected to physical and emotional stress are found to have a faster spread of vitiligo patches. Stress is also thought to be one of the leading triggers for the progression of this disease.5

Chemical Exposure and the Development of Vitiligo

Chemicals that can destroy melanocytes have also been linked to the development of vitiligo. There have been numerous instances where chemicals deemed safe for human usage or consumption have led to the death of the essential pigment-making cells in the skin, thus leading to vitiligo.6

Monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone. This chemical has been observed to cause the death of melanocytes. Its effects were first discovered when the widespread development of vitiligo was observed in the leather factories in 1939 where the chemical was used in the protective gloves used by the factory workers.

Because of its effectivity in removing melanin from the skin, this chemical is now being utilized for the depigmentation of people who have widespread vitiligo. This type of therapy is used to even out the complexion of patients with universal vitiligo and remove the remaining melanocytes in their skin.

Phenols. These chemicals are often found in rubber and other products. Phenols are well-known because of their ability to mimic the amino acid tyrosine, an important component used for the production of pigment in the skin. Once the melanocytes make the mistake of absorbing these phenols, it leads to cell damage and autoimmunity.

An example of this occurred in Japan when a product advertised as a skin-lightening cream caused widespread vitiligo across the product's consumer base because of the use of a phenol — rhododenol — as an active ingredient.

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Vitiligo Causes

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Vitiligo Prevention

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