If you’re noticing light patches or spots of skin on your face, it could be a condition called vitiligo. This depigmentation can appear first on the face. It may also appear on other parts of the body that are exposed regularly to the sun, such as the hands and feet.
You may notice depigmentation caused by vitiligo on one or both sides of your face. Some treatments may help reduce or contain depigmentation. Others can help blend the lightened areas with your natural skin color.
Vitiligo on the face can make you feel self-conscious, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family, or a mental health professional to talk about how you’re feeling. Finding support will go a long way in helping you cope.
Facial vitiligo can occur on the skin, lips, and also the inside your mouth. It occurs when some of your skin cells stop producing melanin. Melanin gives your skin its color. A lack of melanin results in white or light patches on the skin’s surface.
People of all races and genders experience vitiligo at the same rate, but it can be more noticeable in those with darker complexions. You’re most likely to develop vitiligo between the ages of 10 and 30.
Skin depigmentation can spread over time. It may stay in an isolated spot, or, in time, it may grow and cover a majority of your face or other parts of your body.
Other conditions can cause the color of your skin to change, including:
However, these conditions do not cause widespread depigmentation like vitiligo.
Vitiligo primarily affects your skin. Symptoms of facial vitiligo include:
- lightened or white skin that develops in spots or patches on the face
- hair that gets prematurely gray or white, including your beard, eyelashes, and eyebrows
- lightening of the tissues inside your mouth and nose
- changed color of the retina in your eyes
Other symptoms of vitiligo can range from person to person. You may have no other symptoms associated with the condition and feel fine. Or you may experience some of the following:
- low self-esteem
Vitiligo can occur in several forms:
- Generalized. Depigmentation is symmetrical on your face and body. This is the most common type of vitiligo.
- Focal. You have just a few spots in an isolated area of your face or body.
- Segmental. You have depigmentation on just one side of your face or body.
You may have another condition in addition to vitiligo causing symptoms that are unrelated to skin depigmentation. Having vitiligo may increase your chance of having an autoimmune condition.
You experience vitiligo when your skin cells (called melanocytes) stop producing pigment. No one knows exactly what causes vitiligo. Reasons you may experience skin depigmentation from vitiligo include one or more of the following:
- an autoimmune condition that alters your immune system
- your genetics and a family history of vitiligo
- physical trauma
Your doctor may be able to diagnose facial vitiligo from just a physical examination. Or your doctor may use one or more additional methods to diagnose the condition. These may include:
- looking at the affected area under a Wood’s lamp, which uses ultraviolet (UV) rays to examine the skin
- taking a blood test to check for conditions that are associated with vitiligo, like thyroid disease, diabetes, or another autoimmune condition
- discussing recent changes to your health, including sunburn, illness, or stress
- reviewing your family history
- taking a skin biopsy to examine the cells that produce pigment
Treatments for vitiligo vary. You may have a better chance of treating this condition if it’s on your face, compared to other parts of your body. You may also be one of the 10 to 20 percent of people with vitiligo whose skin replenishes pigmentation. Or your treatment may be less successful and you’ll need to use other methods to manage skin depigmentation.
The following treatments may repigment the skin or manage the condition.
Makeup or self-tanner
You can try applying a tinted cream to blend your affected facial skin with the rest of your complexion. This camouflage method works for daily use and needs to be applied again when you wake up in the morning.
You may also want to look into a self-tanner that changes the tone of your affected facial skin. Make sure the product is recommended for the face before applying it.
Don’t think of this as a traditional tattoo that covers the depigmented skin. It’s actually a process called micropigmentation that adds pigment to your affected skin. This treatment method may be especially useful on your lips.
Medications may help reverse depigmentation on your face. Your doctor may recommend:
Talk with your doctor about which medication is right for you.
Lasers and other light-emitting devices may help reverse depigmentation from vitiligo. One type of light therapy includes the excimer laser that can treat the condition in a shorter period of time than other light therapies.
One examined this laser’s effects on three people with significant vitiligo on their faces. The laser and daily application of topical calcipotriene reduced depigmentation by more than 75 percent in a 10-to-20-week period.
Another option is a skin graft to treat depigmented skin. For this procedure, your doctor takes pigmented skin from another area of your body and moves it to your face.
You may be a candidate to lighten your skin to blend depigmentation if vitiligo is on more than half of your body.
Limited evidence supports treatment of vitiligo with herbal supplements.
One review analyzed different studies of herbal treatments on vitiligo and concluded that more research is necessary to make any conclusions about their effectiveness. It did state that ginko biloba therapy may be promising, but further research is needed.
The most crucial action to take at home if you experience vitiligo on your face is to protect it from the sun. The lightened skin from vitiligo is extremely sensitive to UV rays. Always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and wear a hat if you’re going outside.
You may also want to take vitamin D supplements if you’re staying out of the sun to ensure you get enough of this important vitamin.
Makeup, like concealers and foundations that match your complexion, may reduce the discoloration caused by vitiligo.
Don’t get a traditional tattoo if you have vitiligo. This could cause a new patch of skin depigmentation to occur after a few weeks.
Experiencing facial depigmentation can be emotionally challenging. Reach out to friends and family for support. You can also find support groups on the internet or in your community to help you cope with the condition. Or, you may want to approach a counselor to help you manage your feelings.
There are many ways to treat and manage facial vitiligo. Talk to your doctor about possible options for treatment, and seek out emotional support from friends and family, or a support group or counselor.
Talking with others who have vitiligo is a good way to feel connected and help each other navigate the challenges of this condition.