Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes spots or patches of skin to lose melanin. Melanin helps to give your skin and hair color, so when these areas lose it, they become very light in color.
Vitiligo can occur anywhere on your body, including your penis. It often first appears on the face, back of the hand, and neck. But it’s hard to predict which body parts might eventually be affected or how large the spots might become.
Read on to learn more about vitiligo on your penis, including what causes it and available treatment options.
The main symptoms of vitiligo are patches of depigmented skin. Vitiligo of the penis usually appears on the foreskin and shaft, rather than the glans or head of the penis.
If you have vitiligo affecting your penis, you may eventually notice symptoms in other parts of your body, if you haven’t already.
You might also notice symptoms not related to your skin, such as:
- gray or white hair
- loss of color in your mucus membranes, such as the linings of your mouth and nose
- vision changes, which arise from pigment loss in the inner lining of your eyeball
There are a few subtypes of vitiligo, depending on how widespread your symptoms are:
- Localized vitiligo refers to vitiligo that occurs in one or two areas.
- Generalized vitiligo refers to vitiligo that occurs across your body.
- Segmental vitiligo is vitiligo that only affects one side of your body.
Vitiligo can develop at any age, though it tends to show up before the age of 20.
Keep in mind that penile vitiligo isn’t contagious, nor does it have any effect on the function or health of your penis.
If you experience symptoms such as pain, difficulty urinating, erectile dysfunction, or anything else unusual, see a urologist. They’re likely the result of another condition.
Experts aren’t sure why some people stop producing melanin in certain areas. But some believe it may be an autoimmune condition.
Autoimmune conditions occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. If you have another autoimmune condition, such as lupus or Hashimoto’s disease, you might have a higher risk of developing vitiligo.
You may also be more likely to develop it if you have a family history of vitiligo.
Vitiligo is usually diagnosed during a thorough physical exam. If it’s affecting your penis, your doctor will likely examine the rest of your body as well. They might also shine an ultraviolet light on the area to help confirm that it’s vitiligo.
Depending on your symptoms, they may also take a small skin sample from your penis to examine under a microscope. This is known as a biopsy. It’ll help them rule out a condition called balanitis xerotica obliterans, an inflammatory skin condition. It starts out as a red, itchy sore. But over time, the affected skin can turn white.
Make sure to tell your doctor if others in your family have vitiligo or autoimmune conditions.
There’s no way to completely treat vitiligo, but some things can help to bring back some of your original skin tone. Remember, penis vitiligo doesn’t have any effect on your health, so it doesn’t require treatment.
Keep in mind that vitiligo on your penis may be harder to treat than vitiligo in other areas, due to the sensitivity of your genital skin.
Topical creams and ointments may help to reduce the appearance of vitiligo. These usually include anti-inflammatory corticosteroid creams or ointments containing tacrolimus or pimecrolimus, which affect your body’s immune response.
You should only use a corticosteroid cream on your penis if your doctor recommends it. Long-term use could cause side effects, such as skin irritation and skin atrophy.
Ointments containing pimecrolimus or tacrolimus may be more effective with fewer side effects. A small 2007 study found that pimecrolimus cream almost completely restored pigmentation in two children with genital vitiligo.
Using ultraviolet A, ultraviolet B, or excimer light to help restore pigment to the skin of your penis may be effective.
However, too much ultraviolet light exposure to the genitals can also be dangerous and increase your risk of cancer, so make sure to work with a doctor who has lots of experience doing this kind of treatment.
When combined with psoralen medication, light therapy may help mild cases of vitiligo. Psoralen is a compound that helps your body absorb ultraviolet light.
If other treatments are ineffective, surgery may be an option.
If you only have vitiligo on your foreskin, circumcision may help. In other cases, a surgeon might be able to take a small piece of skin from another area of your body and graft it onto the affected area. But this can be hard to do on the penis, especially if a large area is involved.
The appearance of penis vitiligo might make you uncomfortable, but the condition itself is harmless. While it may take a new sexual partner a little time to get used to it, you both may get to the point where the appearance of penile vitiligo no longer even registers.
Learning to be comfortable with your body and all of its unique traits can go a long way toward helping you have peace of mind and self-confidence.