Can Skin Whitening Cause Vitiligo? Here’s The Answer!

Can Skin Whitening Cause Vitiligo? Here's The Answer!
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If you are interested in skin whitening, you may have a few concerns about it, specifically surrounding Vitiligo and whether or not skin whitening can cause it. After all, the whole point is to lighten your skin complexion, and Vitiligo seems to be pretty similar to that end result.

Unfortunately, the answer is not particularly clear-cut. It is possible that skin whitening can cause Vitiligo, but it is very rare. We’ll discuss this in more detail down below.

What is Vitiligo?

It’s probably important to understand what Vitiligo really is before you can ask whether or not it’s caused by certain things. Vitiligo is a condition in which the pigment cells of your skin are destroyed. The areas where this happens turn pale as a result, and the effect is generally splotchy or patchy pale spots on your skin.

Generally speaking, these patches of paler skin will grow over time, and any part of the body can be affected. Even hair or the inside of your mouth can be affected by Vitiligo. The condition can last just a few years or your entire life. Vitiligo usually afflicts people under the age of 30 but can affect anyone.

What Traditionally Causes Vitiligo?

There are several factors that can lead to or outright cause Vitiligo. It’s important to know what risk factors exist to judge why you may have or get Vitiligo.

Family History

Vitiligo is a hereditary condition. This means it can run in your family, just like many other medical conditions. If your family has a history of Vitiligo, then you have a higher chance of naturally getting it yourself. However, this does not mean you are guaranteed to get Vitiligo, even if it is very prominent in your family.

Autoimmune Conditions

If you have an autoimmune condition (your body attacks its own cells), it is possible to get Vitiligo from it. That’s because your body may attack your melanocytes, which produce melanin, and melanin dictates how light or dark your skin is. If the melanocytes are damaged, melanin production could be affected, leading to Vitiligo.

External Triggers

Vitiligo can be caused by external factors as well. This includes many things, such as sunburn or other skin trauma, stress, and exposure to chemicals. As far as Vitiligo caused by skin whitening is concerned, it is only the chemicals that you need to worry about. However, it must be understood that not all skin whitening products have these hazardous chemicals in them.

When and How Does Skin Whitening Cause Vitiligo?

Under normal circumstances, skin whitening does not cause Vitiligo, whether it is a cream or a pill. However, if certain chemicals are in the product, Vitiligo could occur. For example, in 2013, the Kanebo cosmetics company made a very effective skin whitening cream and sold it to the public.

However, over 18,000 customers developed Vitiligo after using it, and the product was recalled. These Vitiligo cases were caused by a chemical known as rhododenol, which is a phenol. There have been many reported cases of individuals developing Vitiligo after exposure to phenols, including 4-tertiary-butyl phenol and 4-tertiary-butyl catechol.

Presumably, phenols pose a risk of causing Vitiligo because they are very similar to the amino acid that your body uses to create melanin. Mistaking them for that amino acid, your body takes in the phenols, and your skin is damaged.

Of course, it’s important to understand that not all skin whitening products pose this risk. Like any other product, they do not necessarily share the same ingredients even if they do the same thing. Some insecticides have been linked to causing cancer or other illnesses, but that doesn’t mean all insecticides do.


Taking what is known into consideration, the answer as to whether or not skin whitening can cause Vitiligo is vague: ‘sometimes.’ It’s not the skin whitening itself that causes Vitiligo, but the chemicals that could potentially be inside of the skin whitening product. Vitiligo can also be caused by many other things, like detergents, adhesives, and even rubber sandals.

That being said, most skin whitening creams and pills do not cause Vitiligo, and if you wanted to be extra safe, you could do the research to ensure that none of the ingredients in any particular product are phenols, which are the prime culprit of Vitiligo as far as chemical exposure is concerned.

However, whether or not you want to take the risk should be weighed based on whether or not you’re willing to accept the possibility of Vitiligo. Individuals with a family history of Vitiligo could be at higher risk of developing it from the use of products, and while Vitiligo can be treated, it cannot outright be cured.

Take all of that into consideration if you are thinking about using skin whitening creams.



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