Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that may cause areas of the skin to lose color. Researchers do not exactly understand why vitiligo develops. These patches may remain stable or get better, and new patches of vitiligo can show up on other areas of your body.

It can feel distressing to have sudden changes in your appearance. Some people with vitiligo have other symptoms beyond a loss of skin color in patches. Vitiligo may also cause itching or tingling, and sensitivity to the elements.

Treatments can help return color to your skin and reduce the immune response. They may also improve these lesser-known symptoms of vitiligo.

Vitiligo develops when the immune system attacks melanocytes. Experts don’t understand why this happens, yet. Melanocytes are skin cells that create melanin, which gives pigment to your skin. When the immune system attacks these cells, they no longer produce melanin.

Melanin offers a bit of natural protection from UV damage. Without melanin, your skin may irritate more easily due to the elements. For some people, even a small amount of sun exposure can make vitiligo patches feel itchy or tingly.

There is another theory about why vitiligo can make your skin tingle. Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition. The inflammation in the skin from the immune attack may cause itchiness in some people. Itchiness occurs most often when vitiligo is active. The active stage of vitiligo is when patches continue to grow or new ones develop.

A small study from 2013 showed the role of histamines in vitiligo. Itching occurs when the immune system releases histamines. People in the study with newly developed and active vitiligo had higher histamine levels. Several study participants reported itchy skin before patches of vitiligo appeared.

There is not a lot of research about itch or tingling in people with vitiligo. If you live with vitiligo and experience these symptoms, know that you are not alone.

One 2017 study involving 402 people with vitiligo showed that about 20% of them felt itchiness on vitiligo patches. Of those people, about 80% described their itch as “tingling.”

There are different types of vitiligo. The type of vitiligo diagnosis is based on the size and spread of vitiligo patches. Itching or tingling is more common in people with focal vitiligo. Focal vitiligo is when there are only one or two small patches on the body. Itchiness is less likely to happen in people with vitiligo that covers more of their bodies.

There are several types of treatments for vitiligo. Treatments to restore or protect melanocytes help return natural color to your skin. The return of pigment in the skin may reduce sensitivity or tingling symptoms. Treatments that suppress the immune response may also improve itching or tingling.

Treatments for vitiligo include:

  • Topical corticosteroids: These reduce inflammation by lowering the immune response that targets the skin. Experts consider them first-line therapies. Many people with localized vitiligo see and feel improvements.
  • Calcineurin inhibitors: People use these topical medications, including tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, off-label to treat vitiligo. They target specific inflammatory proteins. When the medications block the proteins’ actions, your body creates more melanocytes in your skin.
  • 5-fluorouracil: People use this topical treatment for cancerous and precancerous skin lesions. One of the side effects is an increase in skin pigmentation, which can make it useful for treating vitiligo.
  • Ruxolitinib (Opzelura) cream: This is a topical Janus kinase inhibitor. The FDA approved it in July 2022 to restore skin color in nonsegmental vitiligo. It works by blocking the immune system’s attack on the skin.
  • Laser therapy: People use this therapy for treatment if there are only a few small areas of vitiligo.
  • Phototherapy: Doctors may recommend this light treatment when vitiligo patches cover larger areas of the body.
  • Oral prednisone: This is a powerful medication that can slow the progression of vitiligo. It works by suppressing immune activity. It’s designed to be a short-term medication that you take for only 1 or 2 weeks.
  • Surgery: If other treatments don’t work, surgery may be an option. Your doctor can transfer healthy areas of skin or just the skin cells onto an area of vitiligo to restore color.
  • Antihistamines: A small 2013 study showed that people with vitiligo often have higher histamine levels. As part of vitiligo treatment, people can use these medications to reduce symptoms of itching or tingling.

Along with any recommended treatments, there are other things you can do to care for your skin.

Sun protection is important for people with vitiligo. Areas of vitiligo have no natural protection from the sun and will burn easily. This can make your skin feel worse.

You can protect your skin from the sun in the following ways:

  • Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
  • Cover up by wearing loose clothing with long sleeves.
  • Put on a hat with a wide brim to protect your face.
  • Use SPF lip balm and wear sunglasses.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible.

Vitiligo is more likely to show up in areas where the skin has damage. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon. Although it is not always avoidable, do your best to prevent cuts, scrapes, or burns. A new tattoo can also cause a patch of vitiligo to appear at that site.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that causes areas of skin to lose color. The immune system attacks melanocytes, the cells that create melanin to give your skin color.

Along with visual changes in the skin, some people also have itchiness or tingling. These symptoms tend to happen more often with active vitiligo. Treatments to restore skin color and lower inflammation may also help with these lesser-known symptoms.