The main symptom of vitiligo is flat, white spots or patches on your skin.
The first white patch usually develops where the skin has been exposed to the sun.
Initially, the vitiligo may start as a patch of skin that is paler than the rest of your skin. Gradually the patch will become completely white. Sometimes the centre of a patch may be white with pale skin around it. In areas where there are blood vessels under the skin, the patch may be slightly pink rather than white.
The edges of the patch may be smooth or irregular. Sometimes the edges are inflamed (red) or there is hyperpigmentation (brownish discolouration of the skin).
Vitiligo does not cause physical discomfort to your skin, such as dryness, but patches may occasionally be itchy.
If you have vitiligo, the pale areas of your skin are more vulnerable to sunburn.
Areas commonly affected by vitiligo
The areas most commonly affected by vitiligo include:
- the skin around your mouth and eyes
- fingers and wrists
- inside your mouth
Sometimes vitiligo can develop where there are hair roots, such as on your scalp. The lack of melanin in your skin can turn the hair in the affected area white or grey.
Types of vitiligo
There are two main types of vitiligo:
- non-segmental vitiligo
- segmental vitiligo
In rare cases, it is possible for vitiligo to affect your whole body. This is known as universal or complete vitiligo.
In non-segmental vitiligo (also called bilateral or generalised vitiligo), the symptoms of vitiligo often appear on both sides of your body as symmetrical white patches. Symmetrical patches can appear on areas such as the:
- backs of your hands
Non-segmental vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo, affecting up to nine out of 10 people with the condition.
Sometimes the white patches may only affect one area of your body. This is known as segmental, unilateral or localised vitiligo.
Segmental vitiligo is less common than non-segmental vitiligo, although it is more common in children. Segmental vitiligo usually starts earlier and affects three in 10 children who have vitiligo.
How the symptoms of vitiligo develop
If you have vitiligo, it is difficult to predict whether your condition will spread from the original patch or how fast it may spread, as it is different for everyone.
It is likely that more white patches will appear. For some people this can happen quickly. For others, the patches may stay the same for months or years.
If the white patches appear symmetrically on more than one part of your body, the condition may progress quite slowly, with periods when the patches do not change. If you have white patches on only one area of your body, the condition may progress more rapidly.