Symptoms of vitiligo 

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. Gradually, the patch will become completely white. The centre of a patch may sometimes 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. The edges are sometimes inflamed (red) or there is hyperpigmentation (brownish discolouration of the skin).

Vitiligo does not cause 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
  • armpits 
  • groin 
  • genitals
  • inside your mouth

Vitiligo can sometimes 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's possible for vitiligo to affect your whole body. This is known as universal or complete vitiligo.

Non-segmental 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 the:

  • backs of your hands
  • arms
  • eyes
  • knees
  • elbows
  • feet

Non-segmental vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo, affecting up to 9 out of 10 people with the condition.

Segmental vitiligo

The white patches may sometimes 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's more common in children. Segmental vitiligo usually starts earlier and affects 3 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 varies from person to person.

It's 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.

Page last reviewed: 03/10/2014

Next review due: 03/10/2016