Leucoderma, also known as vitiligo, is a distressing skin condition. The word literally means ‘white skin’. There is a gradual loss of pigment melanin from the skin layers which results in white patches. These patches look ugly, especially in persons with dark complexions.

The condition does not cause any organic harm. It brings about great psychological tension to the patient who is more embarrassed than the victim of any pain or discomfort. The condition besides being a medical problem also becomes a social stigma.

Leucoderma is a fairly common disorder and it affects one per cent or more of the world’s population. The disorder can occur at any age in either sex in normal skin. It is more common in women than men. The most affected areas are the hands, neck, back and the wrist in that order.

The problem usually starts with a small white spot and later on it develops into patches. These patches are pale in the beginning but become whiter and whiter as time passes due to loss of pigment. As spots enlarge, they merge into each other to form a broad patch. In some cases, most of the skin of the body may be covered with white patches.

Many wrong beliefs are prevalent about the causes of leucoderma. It is not caused by eating fish and drinking milk at the same time, as is generally believed because even vegetarians suffer from this disorder. Other food combinations such as pumpkin and milk, onion and milk as possible causes of leucoderma also have no basis.

Leucoderma is not caused by any germs; nor is it due bad blood. It is neither infectious nor contagious. It cannot be transmitted from one person to another by physical contact.

The main causes of leucoderma are excessive mental worry, chronic or acute gastric disorder, impaired hepatic function such as jaundice, worms or other parasites in the alimentary canal, ailments like typhoid which affect the gastrointestinal tract, defective perspirative mechanism and burn injuries.  Often the hormone secreting glands are involved in this disorder. Heredity is also a causative factor and about 30 per cent of patients have a family history of the disorder.