Both vitiligo and psoriasis are chronic conditions that cause changes in your skin. While it’s possible to have both at the same time, these are two separate skin conditions with different symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), vitiligo is characterized by pale skin patches which develop when the body attacks and destroys melanocytes.

Melanocytes are the cells that create skin pigment (color).

Psoriasis, on the other hand, causes skin cells to multiply rapidly. This results in inflamed and scaly skin patches, which may be red, purple, or silvery in color.

There’s no cure for either vitiligo or psoriasis, but the symptoms of each can be treated and managed. Here’s what we know about vitiligo and psoriasis and the connections between them.

Research into the connection between vitiligo and psoriasis is still ongoing, but there is solid evidence the conditions are closely related.

A 2017 study examining the links between the two conditions found that psoriasis was more common in participants with vitiligo than it was in participants without vitiligo. However, the authors did not find there was a significantly higher prevalence of vitiligo among participants with psoriasis.

A 2018 review of studies found an even stronger link. Researchers concluded that anyone with either psoriasis or vitiligo was at greater risk of developing the other condition than healthy control groups.

Generally, experts seem to agree that psoriasis and vitiligo share certain risk factors, and are meaningfully connected.

Most researchers believe that both vitiligo and psoriasis are autoimmune in nature.

While the exact causes of autoimmune diseases are not fully understood, their development leads your body’s immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cells and tissues. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says there are over 80 known autoimmune diseases.

Risk factors for developing an autoimmune condition include:

  • Genetics: whether autoimmune conditions run in your family.
  • Environmental factors: including weather, allergens, and exposure to toxins.
  • Lifestyle: including diet, exercise, and substance use.
  • Other health conditions: including viral infections, bacterial infections, or other chronic diseases.

Vitiligo may develop at any age. However, the AAD says about half the people with vitiligo develop it before the age of 21. Psoriasis, on the other hand, tends to develop during adulthood.

The following risk factors may contribute to your developing psoriasis:

Oftentimes, vitiligo occurs due to an unknown cause. This is known as idiopathic vitiligo. It may also be triggered by:

  • emotional distress
  • chemical exposure
  • sunburns

In psoriasis and vitiligo, your immune system attacks healthy tissues in two separate ways. Here’s a look at some of the unique signs and symptoms of both conditions.

Vitiligo symptoms

Vitiligo causes depigmentation, which is when the skin loses its melanin. This may lead to the following symptoms:

  • depigmented skin patches anywhere on the body, including the face, arms, feet, and inside of the mouth or nose
  • patches of white hair on the head, eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard
  • uveitis, an inflammation in the eyes
  • changes in hearing or some hearing loss (uncommon)

Most cases of vitiligo are known as nonsegmental. This type of vitiligo causes symmetrical skin patches on both sides of your body.

A far less common type is called segmental vitiligo. Segmental vitiligo is thought to be attributed to a nervous system problem. With this type, you may experience depigmented skin patches on one side of your body only.

Psoriasis symptoms

There are several types of psoriasis, with plaque psoriasis being the most common.

While the exact symptoms may vary based on type, the hallmark signs of psoriasis include:

  • thick, scaly skin patches that develop on your scalp, elbows, knees, and feet
  • skin patches that itch and burn
  • nails that are thickened, pitted, or ridged
  • dry skin that may crack and bleed

Also, unlike vitiligo, psoriasis causes cycles of worsening symptoms known as flares. Flare-ups may last for a few weeks or up to several months. You may then experience a period of remission where you have little or no psoriasis symptoms.

Melanin and psoriasis

The pigment your melanocytes create is called melanin. Did you know that melanin can affect the way psoriasis looks on your skin?

Learn more about how psoriasis can look in people with varying skin tones.

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Vitiligo doesn’t require treatment, but there are options available if you are interested. There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are medications and other treatments available to help you manage your symptoms. If you are interested in treating either of these conditions, reach out to a board-certified dermatologist.

Vitiligo treatment

Current treatments for vitiligo mainly involve strategies to stop immune cells from attacking melanocytes and help restore color to depigmented areas.

Treatment approaches include:

  • Topical treatments: Powerful corticosteroid creams can be applied to the skin to help restore color to depigmented areas.
  • Light therapy: Phototherapies use lights from a laser or light box to help restore color to depigmented areas. You will need two to three treatments per week for several weeks and the results may not last beyond a few years.
  • PUVA light therapy. This uses ultraviolet light in combination with medication to help restore pigment. It can take up to a year of twice-weekly treatments.
  • Surgical treatments: Surgical procedures involve moving patches of healthy skin or skin cells to depigmented areas. These are only advised for adults with stable (unchanging) vitiligo that have not had success with other treatments.
  • Depigmentation: Rarely, someone with widespread depigmentation may choose to use a cream that removes the remaining pigment from the skin. This process can take one to four years.

Challenging stigma

Many people with vitiligo find beauty in the variations it creates, and seek to reduce the stigma around the condition rather than change their skin. Models with vitiligo like Winnie Harlow and Curtis McDaniel have spoken openly about their journeys and the power of self-acceptance.

Read more perspectives:

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Psoriasis treatment

The goal of psoriasis treatment is to help decrease the rapid skin cell turnover that causes skin plaques and to help alleviate discomfort.

Depending on the type and severity of psoriasis, treatment may involve a combination of:

Autoimmune diseases can run in families, but not everyone inherits them or develops symptoms. Once you’ve been diagnosed with one autoimmune disorder, you’re often more at risk of developing another.

Vitiligo is more common in people with certain autoimmune diseases. A 2018 review found that the following autoimmune conditions may be associated with vitiligo:

People with psoriasis may also be more likely to develop other health conditions. These may include:

Vitiligo and psoriasis are both autoimmune conditions in which the body attacks its own healthy tissues. Current research suggests a link between the two conditions. There is solid evidence that people with vitiligo are more likely to develop psoriasis than people without vitiligo. This may also be true of the reverse, but more research is needed.

Both vitiligo and psoriasis are also associated with an increased risk of developing other autoimmune diseases. While there is no cure for either condition, treatments are available.