What is vitiligo?

The cells in the skin responsible for one’s skin and hair colour are called melanocytes. The melanocytes are located at the bottom of the skin’s upper layer (the epidermis) and within the lining of hair follicles. There are around 1000-1500 melanocytes in every square millimetre of skin, The number of melanocytes in the skin is the same across all ethnic groups (that is, light- and dark-skinned people have the same number of melanocytes), but the type and amount of pigment made (melanin) is darker and greater in darker skinned people. Once melanin is made by the melanocytes, it is then packaged into small compartments (melanosomes) before being transported into the skin cells of the epidermis (keratinocytes) that line the surface of our body.

In vitiligo, melanocytes in certain areas of the skin are destroyed (die-off) resulting in the development of white patches of skin.

A skin disease with “white spots” was first described in ancient Egypt as early as 1500 BC but the term vitiligo did not appear in the medical literature until the first century AD.