Vitiligo is a chronic skin disorder that causes loss of color from patches of skin or hair. Like many other autoimmune conditions, vitiligo is linked to similar diseases, some of which may result in hair loss, but vitiligo doesn’t directly cause hair loss. This skin disorder can affect your self-esteem, but it does not harm your physical health.
This article will explore what vitiligo is, what it looks like, and how it can affect your hair color.
What Is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a chronic autoimmune skin condition in which immune cells destroy melanocytes, the cells that produce pigments called melanin in your skin. When these cells are destroyed, a pale or white patch of skin can result.
This condition can appear at any age, and it can run in families. Vitiligo may be more noticeable in people with darker skin tones because of the contrast in the unaffected areas of skin compared to the vitiligo patches.
Vitiligo patches are most common on the:
- Backs of the hands
Other Vitiligo Symptoms
Vitiligo can alter your appearance, causing discoloration on patches of your skin and hair. Unlike other chronic autoimmune conditions, there are rarely other symptoms that develop with vitiligo. In some cases, vitiligo patches can become itchy, but pain or other serious complications are unusual.
Vitiligo or Gray Hair?
Melanin isn’t just responsible for skin color, it also gives hair its color. All hair is naturally white, but melanin develops before birth to give hair its color. Different hair colors contain varying amounts and types of melanin.
Just as vitiligo can make your body attack the cells that produce melanin in your skin, it can also affect the melanin that gives your hair color. Some people with vitiligo may develop patches of white or gray hair where melanin has been lost. Vitiligo itself does not usually cause hair loss.
If the pigment in your hair is changing in uniform patterns rather than isolated patches, it is likely graying. Vitiligo tends to appear in patches.
Other conditions like poliosis, or white forelock, can cause gray or white patches in your hair. They are similar to vitiligo, with slight variations, and can occur with conditions like vitiligo and alopecia areata. A skin biopsy (removing a sample of skin for examination in a lab) may be needed to diagnose the exact cause of your pigment loss.
Vitiligo and Hair Loss
Vitiligo can cause hair to lose color, but it doesn’t cause hair loss. Instead, vitiligo often occurs alongside another inflammatory skin condition called alopecia areata.
Roughly 15%–25% of people with vitiligo also have another autoimmune condition. Some autoimmune diseases appear together more than others. Vitiligo and alopecia areata share the same immune system pathways and are linked to an increased prevalence of thyroid autoimmunity and atopic dermatitis.
What Causes Vitiligo Hair?
While it’s primarily a chronic autoimmune disorder, several factors can lead to hair discoloration from vitiligo. Melanin of the hair or skin can be destroyed as a result of:
- Autoimmune disease
- Environmental factors
- Toxins and chemicals
- Certain medications
Some products are believed to trigger vitiligo, including:
- Some soaps
- Synthetic oils
- Varnish and lacquer resins
Where It Might Appear
Vitiligo can develop on various body parts, but it’s most common on the face, hands, feet, and genitals. Since these are all areas where hair can grow, you may experience hair pigment loss in these places.
What It Looks Like
Patches of skin discolored from vitiligo are often pale or milky white and usually have well-defined edges or borders. In some cases, these patches can also appear red or inflamed. When hair is affected, it loses pigment in certain sections, and you may see a discolored patch of skin beneath the roots of your hair.
Treatment for Vitiligo Hair
Vitiligo, like other chronic autoimmune conditions, can be difficult to treat. Some treatments that have shown to help people with vitiligo include:
When vitiligo affects hair color, dye can be used to camouflage these patches, but proceed with caution because, in some cases, hair dye can make vitiligo worse.
An alternative treatment option for hair discoloration from vitiligo is a hair follicle transplant. This is where healthy hair follicles are removed from areas unaffected by vitiligo and placed in areas of pigment loss.
Vitiligo can change your appearance but rarely causes serious disease or complications. Lack of color in the skin or hair is the most common symptom. Other conditions that cause hair loss can occur alongside vitiligo, but vitiligo itself is not usually the cause. If you notice light patches of skin or hair, talk to your healthcare provider about ruling out other conditions that can change your pigmentation.
A Word From Verywell
Some people embrace vitiligo hair, while others prefer to hide it if they can. Vitiligo is not harmful to your physical health, but it can impact your self-esteem. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options for vitiligo or ask about a referral to a mental health provider if this condition is negatively affecting your self-esteem.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is vitiligo the same as poliosis?
Vitiligo and poliosis can both cause discoloration of the hair, but they are not the same. These conditions may occur together, often in people with conditions like Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH) syndrome, a rare disorder that can affect the skin, or other autoimmune conditions.
Does hair grow on vitiligo patches?
Hair can grow on vitiligo patches, but it may appear gray or white because of a lack of melanin.
Does vitiligo cause hair loss?
Vitiligo doesn’t typically cause hair loss, but it may occur with conditions that do, like alopecia areata.