Little white lies: Vitiligo myths and facts
In many societies around the world there is a strong stigma attached to vitiligo
and false beliefs prevail. It is our hope that by educating people about the
disorder we can begin to change the public perception. Ideally, this will
bring about better understanding and greater acceptance of individuals dealing
with the condition. Here we aim to debunk some of the common myths surrounding
MYTH 1 – CAUSES
There are various misconceptions about the cause of vitiligo. While some
imagine it is a punishment for wrong doing, other superstitions suggest certain
types of deodorant set off vitiligo or that you can get it by patting dogs with
white spots on their head.
Notions like these are entirely baseless and arise from fear or a lack of
understanding of the disease. Through years of scientific research, it has been
found that vitiligo is caused by the destruction of melanocytes, the pigment
producing cells of the skin. When these stop functioning, no pigment is produced
and hence the skin in that area becomes white in colour. This is a well
documented biological process, totally unrelated to the nature of one’s
behaviour. For more information on the causes of vitiligo refer to the vitiligo article.
MYTH 2 – FOODS
Some people believe that vitiligo can be aggravated by eating milk or other
white foods, while others think that sour foods such citrus fruits (lemons,
limes and oranges) increase its spread. There is also one particularly prevalent
myth that drinking milk shortly after eating fish brings on the disease.
In truth, vitiligo has not been shown to have any connection with diet. This
means that avoiding certain foods will have absolutely no impact on the
progression of the condition. There are some factors which have been implicated
as aggravating vitiligo, though no definitive proof has been found for any of
these; they include skin injury, emotional stress, pregnancy, illness and severe
MYTH 3 – DYSFUNCTION
It is often implied that those affected by vitiligo are in some way inferior
in their physical or mental capabilities. Such myths include ideas that they are
unintelligent, intellectually disabled or that their bodies are unhealthy and
Vitiligo is not associated with the degree of one’s intelligence. It does not
influence the brain, nor any other part of the body; the effects of vitiligo are
restricted exclusively to the skin.
MYTH 4 – SPREAD
Vitiligo is infectious and sufferers should be avoided.
Vitiligo is in no way contagious and therefore cannot be contracted from
another person. It cannot be transmitted via touch, saliva, blood, inhalation,
sexual intercourse or the sharing of personal items (i.e. drink bottle, towels,
MYTH 5 – OTHER SKIN CONDITIONS
Vitiligo is related to other skin disorders such as albinism, skin cancer or
There are clear distinctions between each of these disorders, none of them
being related to vitiligo.
Individuals with albinism are born with little or no melanin in their skin,
whereas vitiligo onset occurs during one’s lifetime as the melanocytes become
damaged. Furthermore, vitiligo rarely encompasses the entire body like
Vitiligo is a skin condition
that causes white patches on your skin and also around your eyes, mouth and
nose. This pigmentation disorder causes the cells that produce pigment in your
body, melanocytes, to be destroyed. In the United States this disorder affects
between two and four million people and worldwide affects close to sixty five
million people. Below are five facts about Vitiligo.
1.The Causes of Vitiligo are Unknown
While there are many theories around the causes of Vitiligo, the actual cause
is unknown. Many doctors and scientists believe that Vitiligo is correlated
with a group of three genes that are directly related to pigmentation. Vitiligo
is widely believed to be an auto-immune disease yet what triggers the disorder
has not been scientifically proven. Some believe that a sunburn or even emotion
distress can trigger Vitiligo.
2.Vitiligo is Gender Neutral
Unlike other disorders, Vitiligo affects men and women equally, although
those with darker complexions are more likely to have this disorder.
Furthermore, Ninety five percent of people with Vitiligo develop the condition
before the age of forty. Family history also plays an important role in your
risk for Vitiligo and those with other auto-immune diseases are also more
3.There is No Way to Predict the Spread of Vitiligo
While there are a variety of patterns of Vitiligo, it is impossible to know
where or if it will spread. For some people Vitiligo spreads slowly, for others
it may spread quickly and for some not spread at all. Most cases where Vitiligo
is located in only one specific area of the body (focal or segmental pattern) it
often will not spread.
4.Vitiligo is not Harmful Medically
Vitiligo is not harmful and causes no physical pain but has been shown to
cause serious emotional and psychological stress. This is especially true if it
affects visible areas of your skin. Some people take topical steroid, use
cosmetics to cover the white patches or use light therapy while others take a
more dramatic approach and have skin grafts to cover the white patches of skin.
The most important issue is to address any feelings of depression or emotional
distress with your doctor.
5.There is No Cure for Vitiligo
Since there is no cure for the condition, it is important to take care of
yourself mentally and physically. Always where sunscreen when you are out in
the sun. Tanning will only make the contrast in your skin more noticeable.
Realize that just because there is no cure does not mean that there are not
things you can do to improve yourself mentally and physically.