The pigment melanin determines the color of your skin, hair and eyes. White blotches on the chest develop when the cells that produce melanin either die or cannot produce melanin properly. This skin condition is called vitiligo. According to MayoClinic.com, vitiligo usually begins in small areas of the skin and then slowly spreads.
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There are three main types of vitiligo: focal, generalized and segmental. Focal vitiligo occurs when white blotches only appear in a small area of the skin, such as the chest. Generalized vitiligo is characterized by white blotches that are widespread over the body. Segmental vitiligo occurs when color loss only effects one side of the body. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, generalized vitiligo is the most common type.
In addition to white blotches on the chest, those with vitiligo may experience premature graying of the hair. Gray hair may appear on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes and beard. The mucus membranes in the mouth may also lose their color. In some cases, the eyes may lose some of their color, according to MayoClinic.com.
The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, but several factors are believed to play a role in the development of the condition. Medline Plus notes that heredity may be partly responsible because there is an increased rate of vitiligo in families. Abnormal immune system responses seem to contribute to the development of the condition as well. Vitiligo is often associated with hyperthyroidism, pernicious anemia and Addison’s disease, according to Medline Plus.
Initial treatment for vitiligo consists of light therapy, oral medications and topical medications, such as corticosteroids and immunosuppressants. If these efforts are unsuccessful, skin grafting may be used to transfer pigmented skin from other areas of the body to the white blotches on the chest. In severe cases, a procedure in which the colored areas of the skin are depigmented may be performed. This is only done as a last option, however, because the procedure is permanent.
After treatment, some people regain coloring in the areas of lost pigment; however, new areas of discoloration often develop, according to Medline Plus. It is important to take extra sun protection care if you have vitiligo because the areas with no pigmentation are more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer.