Vitiligo is a chronic, autoimmune skin disease characterized by the appearance of depigmented areas due to the loss of skin pigment (melanin). The lesions can be of any shape and size and affect any part of the skin and mucous membranes. It is a relatively common disease, affecting 1%-2% of the population and sometimes appears frequently associated with other autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Vitiligo occurs when melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) die or stop melanin production. The origin is not clear, but could be related to:

  • Autoimmune disorder.
  • Family history.
  • Triggering events such as stress, sunburn or trauma to the skin.

It is estimated that 30% of patients with vitiligo have a family history of the disease, highlighting the important genetic component of the disease. Although the genetic basis is not entirely clear, the association studies carried out so far are proving to be very useful for research. In one of them, involving almost 3,000 patients, 50 susceptibility loci were identified, most of which encode immune and apoptotic regulators, and some are also associated with other autoimmune diseases, such as HLA-DQ1, as well as several melanocyte regulators. In addition, the relationships of some loci with other autoimmune diseases and melanoma stand out.


Vitiligo is a benign disease with no major health consequences. It can begin at any age, but its onset is most common before the age of 30. The most common signs of vitiligo include:

  • Patchy loss of skin color, usually appearing first on the hands, face and areas around body openings.
  • Premature discoloration of the hair, eyelashes or eyebrows.
  • Loss of color of the mucous membranes.

There is no cure for vitiligo, but there are treatments that can help stop or slow the color fading process.


There is no specific prevention against the onset of vitiligo.

Once diagnosed, there are actions that can be taken to slow down its progression such as:

  • Protecting the skin from sun exposure with the use of high protection factor creams.
  • Avoid exposure to artificial sources of UV rays such as self-tanning beds.
  • Avoid situations that can be triggers such as stress or trauma to the skin.

Number of observed variants

13.5 million variants

Number of risk loci analyzed in the study

43 loci


Jin Y, Andersen G, Yorgov D, et al. Genome-wide association studies of autoimmune vitiligo identify 23 new risk loci and highlight key pathways and regulatory variants. Nature Genetics. 2016 Nov;48(11):1418-1424.

Mayo Clinic [April 2022]

Spanish Society of Internal Medicine [April 2022]

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIH) [April 2022]

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