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Everything to Know About the Skin Condition Vitiligo

Most people interested in the fashion world would have seen Canadian model Winnie Harlow, who has been making a name for herself in the industry. She also has the skin condition vitiligo, which is caused by a loss of pigment (melanin) in the skin, and results in white patches.

According to Mayo Clinic, when the pigment-forming cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin stop functioning or die, this is when the condition occurs. It can affect people of all skin colors, although it is more noticeable in those with a darker skin tone.

Vitiligo can appear on any area of the skin but is most commonly found on the fingers and wrists, armpits, around the eyes and mouth, as well as inside the mouth, and the genitals and groin. According to the NHS, the condition starts with a pale patch of skin, which will eventually turn completely white or a light pink if there are blood vessels under the skin. The condition tends to vary, depending on the person, and can range in size and differ in patterns.

In rare cases, vitiligo can affect the entire body, but there are two main types of vitiligo; non-segmental vitiligo (which the NHS reports is thought to be an autoimmune condition), in which the patches appear on both sides of the body and are often symmetrical. The second is segmental vitiligo, which affects a single area on the body. According to the NHS, non-segmental vitiligo is the most common cause and effects 9 out of 10 people with the condition.

So, who can be experience vitiligo? Mayo Clinic notes that it can start at any age, but is more common before the age of 20. WebMD also notes that in almost all cases, vitiligo will occur before age 40, and as much as 2 percent of the population is estimated to have the condition.

Those with a family history of vitiligo, as well as individuals with other autoimmune conditions, are more at risk, so are those who have a melanoma or cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

In general, the condition does not cause discomfort, although there are times when the patches could be itchy. It does not affect the individual's health and is also not contagious, but there is no cure. However, it is recommended to see a doctor to receive treatment which could slow the discoloring process.

[Image via Andrea Raffin /]

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