How to Prevent Worsening of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a chronic medical condition that causes your skin to lose melanin, the pigment that gives color to your skin. Vitiligo can’t be prevented, and it has no known cure. However, there are ways to manage the symptoms of vitiligo and to prevent it from getting worse.

About 70 million people worldwide (1% of the population) are affected by vitiligo. The condition creates milky-white patches on the skin. It can also affect the mucous membranes, eyes, mouth, inner ear, and hair. Usually, white patches start to appear before the age of 20 and get worse over time.

The most common type of vitiligo is nonsegmental vitiligo, also called generalized vitiligo. Generalized vitiligo causes symmetrical white patches to develop on both sides of the body. They often get larger over time as depigmentation progresses. Segmental vitiligo develops on one side of the face or body and usually stops progressing after one to two years.

This article discusses how to prevent your color loss from getting worse, as well as vitiligo treatment options. 

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Can You Prevent Vitiligo?

It’s not yet clear what causes vitiligo, but many researchers believe it is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is a condition that causes your immune system to attack your body’s normal, healthy cells. In the case of vitiligo, white blood cells destroy melanocytes (the skin cells that produce melanin). 

Anyone can get vitiligo. However, people with the condition are more likely to have other autoimmune diseases. Up to 25% of people who have vitiligo have at least one other autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or autoimmune thyroid disease.

Vitiligo sometimes develops in areas of the skin that have experienced minor injuries or sunburn. It may also sometimes be triggered by emotional distress or chemical exposure.

Vitiligo isn’t currently preventable or curable. However, it may be possible to prevent future depigmentation and to return some amount of color to the skin by protecting your immune system and skin. 

How to Prevent Vitiligo From Worsening

While vitiligo usually can’t be fully prevented, there are some ways that you can prevent it from getting worse. Usually, these methods are focused on boosting your immune system. This may help restore healthy melanocytes to the skin or prevent white patches from spreading.

Vitiligo prevention strategies may include diet, supplements, and skin protection.

Diet

Research on whether vitiligo can be prevented or reversed with diet is limited. There is no hard evidence that a particular “vitiligo diet” can stop you from developing the condition. 

However, because vitiligo is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, it may be helpful to eat nutrient-dense foods that can help to boost your immune system. Here are some of the foods you should consider including in your diet for better vitiligo management and prevention.

Foods to Eat

Some researchers believe that vitiligo symptoms are exacerbated by oxidative stress—an imbalance that causes cell damage and slows down the regrowth of healthy tissues in the body. A plant-based diet rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D may help to boost your immune system and prevent your white patches from spreading. 

Some of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you should incorporate into your diet if you have vitiligo are: 

  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, are naturally occurring compounds that combat oxidative stress and prevent cell damage. Antioxidant-rich foods include fruits (especially berries), green leafy vegetables (such as kale), nuts, chocolate, herbs, and spices.
  • Phytochemicals: Phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene, are compounds found in plants that may have a protective effect against cell damage. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and spinach, are rich in phytochemicals.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Oily fish (such as salmon), nuts, seeds, and other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids may help to boost your immune function and promote cell repair. 
  • Vitamin D: Research suggests that vitiligo is often associated with vitamin D deficiency. Foods that contain a high amount of vitamin D include oily fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products such as milk and yogurt.

Foods to Avoid

Evidence about the best foods to avoid to prevent vitiligo is limited. However, early research suggests that limiting your intake of high-fat foods, foods that can promote inflammation, and foods that contain gluten may help to prevent depigmentation in the following ways:

  • High-fat foods: High-fat foods may play a role in the development or worsening of vitiligo symptoms. In one 2019 study, a higher total fat intake was associated with a higher risk of vitiligo. Limit your intake of fried foods, processed meat products, full-fat cheese, and butter.
  • Inflammation-promoting foods: Because vitiligo is possibly related to the body’s inflammatory processes, many people with vitiligo steer clear of foods that can prompt an inflammatory response. Examples include processed snacks, processed meat, fried foods, white bread, alcohol, and sugary desserts.
  • Foods that contain gluten: A couple of case reports indicate that eliminating foods containing gluten (such as breads and pastas) may help some people with vitiligo, especially if they also have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. Some people with vitiligo adopt a gluten-free diet in hopes of improving their condition.

Take Vitamins and Minerals

Just as there is no agreed-upon “vitiligo diet,” there are no vitamins and minerals that have been found to consistently prevent or reverse the symptoms of vitiligo. However, some limited research suggests that taking certain vitamins and minerals in the form of oral supplements or topical creams may help, including: 

  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to some cases of vitiligo, leading some healthcare providers to suggest taking vitamin B12 supplements in addition to other treatments.
  • Turmeric: In a 2022 pilot study, patients with moderate vitiligo who applied a topical turmeric cream saw a reduction in the size of their white patches over the course of four months.
  • Gingko biloba: A handful of studies have suggested that ginkgo biloba, which acts as an antioxidant, may stop vitiligo from progressing or even lead to repigmentation in some cases. 
  • Iron: Research indicates that vitiligo is often associated with iron-deficiency anemia, so iron supplements may be helpful. 
  • Copper and zinc: Some healthcare providers recommend taking over-the-counter (OTC) oral copper and/or zinc supplements to improve the symptoms of vitiligo. A 2014 study revealed that vitiligo is associated with copper and zinc deficiency.

Avoid Skin Wounds and Burns

Vitiligo is sometimes triggered by sunburn. If you have vitiligo, you may also be prone to sunburn and skin cancer, especially in the affected areas of your skin. 

Whether you have vitiligo or want to prevent it, it’s important to protect your skin from sun damage with the following steps:

  • Use waterproof sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 25.
  • Choose sunblock that protects against both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet A and B) rays.
  • When outside, stay in shady areas as much as possible.
  • Wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
  • Stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. 

White patches may also spread or begin in areas of the skin that have been wounded or exposed to harsh chemicals. If you have vitiligo, use products for sensitive skin as much as possible, and avoid possible sources of skin injury or irritation.

Vitiligo Treatment Options

Vitiligo is not life-threatening, but the condition can sometimes cause psychological stress and damage self-esteem. Talk to your dermatologist (a specialist in skin conditions) about possible vitiligo treatments. Your options may include topical medications, light therapy, camouflage therapy, repigmentation therapy, and surgery.

Topical Medications

Your healthcare provider may prescribe topical medications that can be applied to the areas affected by vitiligo.

A strong topical corticosteroid preparation is most commonly prescribed. Taken for four to six months, it can lead to repigmentation in 45% of patients.

Topical calcineurin inhibitors such as Protopic (tacrolimus) and Elidel (pimecrolimus) may be prescribed off-label. Off-label means that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for vitiligo, but your healthcare provider may think it could benefit you. These may be used in combination with laser treatment.

Topical Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor creams are showing promise in vitiligo studies. One, Opzelura (ruxolitinib cream 1.5%), is under review by the FDA for the treatment of vitiligo.

Light Therapy

Light therapy, also called phototherapy, is one of the most common treatments for vitiligo. Light therapy involves exposing white patches of skin to UVB light with laser treatments or light boxes over time. It can take place at home or in a clinical setting, such as a dermatologist’s office.

Many people find success with light therapy, but results often disappear within one to four years. To maintain results, you’ll most likely need two or three treatments per week.

Camouflage Therapy

Camouflage therapy involves using products like makeup, skin dye, or self-tanning cream to add color to depigmented patches of skin. Some people may visit a makeup artist who specializes in vitiligo camouflage to learn more about how to even out the appearance of their skin. Other, more permanent options may include skin staining pens or medical tattooing.

Camouflage therapy is often preferred by people who want to avoid the side effects of other vitiligo treatment options. However, it can be time-consuming to apply the products on a regular basis.

Repigmentation Therapy

Repigmentation therapy involves applying topical medications, such as creams that contain corticosteroids, to the skin in order to reverse color loss.

The treatment is effective in about half of patients within four to six months. Side effects may include itching, burning, bruising easily, increased sensitivity to sun damage, and skin atrophy (thinning of the skin).

Another, less common option is depigmentation therapy, which involves removing the remaining color from the skin to create a uniform color. This process is permanent and can take a year or longer.

Surgery

If vitiligo symptoms don’t improve with other treatments, the following surgical procedures may be an option: 

  • Skin grafting, in which skin from one area of the body is grafted onto a patch that has lost color
  • Blister grafting, which involves creating blisters and removing the tops of them to graft onto a depigmented area of skin

People with extensive color loss, especially due to segmental vitiligo, are most likely to opt for surgery. You might not be eligible for vitiligo surgery if your patches are currently spreading or if you scar easily.

Summary

Vitiligo is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes the skin to lose melanin. Usually, this causes milky-white areas to appear on the skin in patches.

There is currently no known way to prevent or cure vitiligo. However, you can sometimes prevent your symptoms from getting worse or spreading. Some vitiligo prevention strategies—such as diet and taking vitamins—are focused on boosting the immune system. Protecting the skin from wounds and burns may also help to prevent white patches from spreading. 

Vitiligo treatment options may include light therapy, camouflage therapy, repigmentation therapy, or surgery.

A Word From Verywell

There is no single known way to prevent or cure vitiligo. However, you can often restore some color to your skin and prevent vitiligo from getting worse. Consult a dermatologist to talk about your treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What triggers vitiligo?

    Vitiligo symptoms may first appear in an area of the skin that has been injured or exposed to chemicals. Sunburn and emotional distress may also trigger vitiligo. In some cases, there is no known trigger for the onset of the condition.

  • Can you reverse vitiligo?

    There is currently no known permanent cure for vitiligo. However, you can sometimes restore color to parts of your skin to achieve a more even tone. Vitiligo treatment options include medications, light therapy, camouflage therapy, repigmentation therapy, and surgery.

  • Is vitiligo fatal?

    On its own, vitiligo is neither contagious nor life-threatening. However, the white patches of skin can be more vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer.

    Other possible complications of vitiligo may are emotional stress and mental health conditions, hearing loss, and uveitis (inflammation in the eye).

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with particular interests in mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. She has published work in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Week, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, Catapult, Pacific Standard, Health.com, Insider, Forbes.com, TalkPoverty, and many other outlets.