Vitiligo Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that causes a loss of pigmentation in the skin. Roughly 1.9 million are diagnosed with vitiligo in the United States. However, medical researchers believe that the number of actual cases may be closer to 2.8 million because many cases are undiagnosed.

Vitiligo doesn’t discriminate, and it is found relatively equally in all ethnicities and sexes. This article discusses the prevalence and statistics surrounding vitiligo. 

man with vitiligo staring out the window, sad

FG Trade / Getty Images

Vitiligo Overview

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that presents as depigmentation of the skin. The pigment melanin, which gives skin its color, is lost in people with vitiligo, resulting in pale patches of white skin on their bodies.

The patches can occur anywhere. However, they are most commonly found on the head, face, neck, and hands. Once the condition develops, it continues to progress and worsen over time. In some cases, the patches of white skin may improve or stop growing.

Autoimmunity and Vitiligo

An autoimmune disease occurs when cells of the immune system mistake healthy cells for foreign pathogens and attacks them. In the case of vitiligo, the cells attacked are melanocytes, pigment cells that help give skin its color. 

How Common Is Vitiligo?

Roughly 1100 in every 100,000 people in the United States have vitiligo. Determining the exact number of cases is difficult because not everyone with the condition comes forward for a diagnosis.

While the number of people diagnosed with vitiligo sits lower at 770 per 100,000, the total number of cases includes diagnosed, undiagnosed, and self-reported.  

There are two types of vitiligo:

  • Nonsegmental
  • Segmental

Non-segmental vitiligo presents as patches that develop symmetrically on both sides of the body. When segmental occurs, it affects only one area of the body. Roughly 9 out of every 10 cases of vitiligo are considered non-segmental.

Is Vitiligo on the Rise?

It is hard to determine if the number of people with vitiligo is rising because many with the disorder choose not to seek medical treatment. Because of that, information regarding the increase or decrease in cases is scarce.

Vitiligo by Ethnicity

All ethnicities are affected by vitiligo. That said, some research suggests that people with fair skin or who are of mixed race account for most cases of vitiligo.

Cases per 100,000 People of Vitiligo by Ethnicity
Non-Hispanic Black 74
Non-Hispanic white 620
Hispanic 120
Asian/Southeast Asian 120
Multiracial 594

Vitiligo and Darker Skin Tones

Vitiligo is easier to see on darker skin tones; however, those of non-Hispanic Black descent are among the least affected by the condition.

Vitiligo by Age and Gender

While vitiligo can occur at any age, it typically begins to develop in childhood or before the age of 20. By that time, nearly half of all cases will have developed in people with vitiligo. By 30, roughly 70% to 80% of vitiligo cases will have already developed.

When it comes to which sex is most affected, the research has been inconsistent. Some studies suggest that males are more likely to develop the condition, whereas others have found females to be the most affected.

Age of Onset by Percentage
Under 10 25% 
Under 20 50%
Under 30 70-80%
Over 30 20-30%

Vitiligo and Aging

People who have vitiligo have it for life. Once it develops, it can be managed or left alone since it poses no health threat.

Causes of Vitiligo and Risk Factors

The exact cause of vitiligo isn’t well understood. That said, some factors increase the risk of someone developing vitiligo. Risk factors include:

  • Genetic mutations: Certain gene mutations can increase the risk of vitiligo, and as many as 30% of people with the condition have a family member who is also affected.
  • Other autoimmune diseases: Other autoimmune disorders such as Addison’s disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus are all linked to vitiligo.
  • Environment: A traumatic sunburn, emotional stress, or chemical exposure can trigger or worsen vitiligo in some people. Stress is particularly linked to late-onset vitiligo.

Vitiligo and Skin-Lightening Products

Although rare, using skin-lightening products can trigger vitiligo in someone who is already genetically predisposed to the condition.

Screening and Early Detection

Vitiligo does not cause other health issues and isn't severe enough to threaten a person's overall level of wellness.

Because of that, screening and early detection are not necessarily needed. Typically, the patches of white skin develop and cause no pain or irritation. If someone does not like the cosmetic appearance of the spots, they can seek treatment, but it is not always necessary to do so.

Reducing the Vitiligo Stigma

There is a stigma attached to vitiligo because of its cosmetic appearance, which has prompted people to try various treatments to correct the loss of pigmentation. That said, recent inclusivity movements in the mainstream beauty industry have begun reducing that stigma by celebrating the unique appearance of vitiligo.

Summary

Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disorder that affects as many as 2.8 million people in the United States. The condition presents as white patches of skin on various parts of the body. The disease develops when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin pigment cells. While vitiligo is more evident in people with darker skin tones, people with fair skin are the most affected by the condition.

Both sexes are thought to be affected equally. Research is still ongoing because many studies have come to different conclusions regarding the prevalence rates in both sexes. Because many studies come to other decisions regarding sex and vitiligo, it’s hard to determine which sex is the most affected.

Vitiligo typically develops before 30. Most cases appear between childhood and age 20. Once the skin condition emerges, it cannot be cured. Treatments usually focus on changing the cosmetic appearance of the white patches.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is vitiligo serious?

    While vitiligo doesn’t cause serious health consequences, it can lead to poor self-image and self-esteem in some. That said, treatments are available to help combat that, and the stigma regarding the appearance of the white patches is beginning to subside due to a more inclusive cultural push.

  • What age group is most affected by vitiligo?

    Vitiligo affects all age groups equally because once you develop the condition, you have it for life. That said, the onset age varies, and most people with vitiligo begin developing it before the age of 30.

  • Can stress cause vitiligo?

    While stress isn’t linked to the onset of vitiligo in childhood, research has found that it can be a risk factor for people who develop the condition after age 30. Adult onset vitiligo can come on for many reasons, and stress is just one of them.


10 Sources
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 Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.