Medically reviewed by Dr. John Harris, dermatologist and Director of the UMass Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center.
Can stress cause vitiligo? No – but it can trigger it.
According to Dr. John Harris, Director of the University of Massachusetts Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center, your genetic makeup – which is set at birth – makes you more or less likely to get vitiligo. However, the white spots on your skin don’t appear until a chance event occurs either internally (which is not well-understood) or externally, such as a stressful triggering event.
That’s why you might hear about cases of vitiligo starting after a physical or emotional stress trigger such as cutting your finger, giving birth, or losing a loved one. It’s also why some patients with vitiligo may experience rapid spreading during or after a stressful time in their life.
To see if stress-related triggers were common, we asked our Instagram community when their vitiligo started and it if appeared after a stress-related incident. Here’s what they said.
“When l was 28 years old and when l had a lot of stress in my life….” – Stephanie
“When I was facing great stress challenges both in my professional and personal life.” – Margarida
“After my parent’s divorce…” – Sarah
“Started when I was 17, I was in holidays at the beach, it was a time with a lot of stress and emotional period because I broke up with my first boyfriend, among other teenager and family difficulties.” – Loli
“A few months after my son was born.” – Lina
“My vitiligo started when I was 22 … when we found out my mom had cancer.” – Stefy
“I got in a bike accident and scarred up my knees and hands when I was 7…3 years later I noticed white spots on those exact same spots and was told it was vitiligo. It’s spread pretty much all over now but I’m so pale you can’t even tell!! I’ve always wondering if accidents/scarring caused it, now I know!” – Alyssa
“Age 8, after an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, and a blood platelet transfusion.” – Larissa
“I got my first small spot when I was 5 in left knee. Then it got really bad in high school when I was extremely self-conscious about it. Now that I am older and I don’t care nearly as much I have had spots fill in.” – Chantilly
“When I lost my job. I was out of a job for three months I believe. I was depressed, stressed, and felt lost. It started with a small spot on my face. The spot kept growing and one day I woke up with completely white underarms.” – Patty
“27 after a weekend away, was out on the water and baking every day. Started with my lips. Thought it was s bad sunburn.” – Monica
“Yes, when I lost my mom they started to appear on my skin. And it was worse when I started a manager position on logistics.” – Edith
“My daughter had it start at age 4. We think the trigger was when a big dog ran up to her. It was friendly and happy but whipped her with is wagging tail. She was petrified.” – Melissa
“I’ve had it since I was 4 but it really took off during nursing school 16 years later.” – Anna
“As best I can remember I noticed a spot around age 12 on my hip. It was a pretty decent size and stayed stable for many years. Stress seems to really set it off. I swear I can actually feel it heat up when new spots are about to appear. Stress and anxiety seem to be what triggers it for me!” – Brooke
“My vitiligo started randomly when I was 21ish, but stayed dormant for over 10 years. Then when I got pregnant with my first child, it spread like wildfire!” – Cristina
“When I was 30… after job shut down then mom died.” – Tina
“My daughter when she was 5. No stress or trauma involved. Gradually has got worse every year. She’s 12 now.” – Amanda
“I was 37 and pregnant in my third trimester. From there it spread from my right hand to my arm and partially on my chest. Second pregnancy it came up again and this time on my left hand and face… You never know how pregnancy is going to affect you because we are never the same again.” – Nyree
“When I [was] born.” – Lidya
“When my [doctor] told me my baby could and should die because he had 4 brain tumors. He is 7 years old now.” Vanessa
“Mine started when I was 11, it could’ve been the stress of starting at secondary school.” – Eleanor
“I was born with vitiligo, but over the years it’s changed drastically. When I was a teenager the patches on my joints got smaller and the only spots on my face were around my eyes (like natural eye shadow)! Now, after a severe sunburn about two years ago, my vitiligo has covered areas that I never had spots on before. I notice it’ll change slightly with stress, weight change, or lifestyle change, but the sunburn really made the biggest impact on my spots!” – Katrina
“Mine started when I was 23. I was dealing with a lot with my job, gallbladder surgery, bad breakup, and my dog died. All within 2 months. Within that past 6 months it’s spread like wildfire.” – Darlene
“When I was 2 and stung my feet in nettles.” – Becky
“My daughter’s started in one eye when she was 7. I noticed it after she used a sleeping eye mask for several days. I thought she had developed a skin infection. Her pediatrician dismissed it. But I took her took my dermatologist who gave us the diagnosis. She’s gotten additional spots on her back, waist, knees, and neck.” – Catherine
“Mine started when I began to be allergic to tomatoes. The first spots formed where I had rashes on my hands. I no longer get the rashes once we figured that part out, but vitiligo continues to spread to multiple places on my whole body.” – Kaylen
“I was 33 and gardening a lot. Noticed first spot on my face. Now it’s on my face and hands.” – Britney
“25, noticed a spot on my breast after starting birth control.” – Anastasia
Do you think stress triggered your vitiligo? Tell about your experience in the comments below.
Erika Page is the Founder and Editor of Living Dappled. After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, she lost 100% of her pigment to the condition and today lives with universal vitiligo.