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The Microbiome in Vitiligo

Microbiome / Vitiligo

The Microbiome in Vitiligo

The human “microbiome” refers to the collection of trillions of organisms (bacteria and yeast) and the molecules they produce that live naturally in and on our bodies. Some of the important functions of these organisms include vitamin production, digestion, and protection against foreign invaders. You have probably heard of the gut microbiome, but another important microbiome is the skin microbiome, which we realize plays a crucial role in skin health.[1] Scientists have shown that multiple skin diseases, including acne, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis, are associated with abnormal changes in the skin microbiome.[2]

The vitiligo skin microbiome is a skin disease involving loss of skin color, which usually results in the progressive development of light patches on the skin. This skin condition is relatively common, affecting around 2% of the population worldwide.[3] Although the exact cause of vitiligo remains unknown, it most likely involves an abnormal immune system and excessive free radical damage.[4] Recently, there has been an investigation into whether the skin microbiome is different in vitiligo compared to people without vitiligo.

Is the Skin Microbiome Altered in Vitiligo?

Scientists studied the skin of 10 people with vitiligo to see if there were differences in the organisms that live on the skin affected by vitiligo versus patches of skin without vitiligo.[5] The results were the world’s first to show the microbiome indeed differs between the skin of a vitiligo patch compared to skin without. Specifically, the diversity of the skin microbiome appeared to be higher in normal skin compared to vitiligo skin. Microbiome diversity refers to how many different types or strains of bacteria are measured. In these patients, areas of skin without vitiligo had many different strains of bacteria compared to the vitiligo patches. A more diverse microbiome is considered healthier by providing more balance and preventing one species from predominating over others.[6] However, more research needs to be done to know if creating a more balanced microbiome will help improve vitiligo.

How Is the Skin Microbiome Changed in Vitiligo?

The authors of this research study concluded that there was skin microbiome dysbiosis in the vitiligo patches of skin, and the diversity of the species groups was much less rich compared to normal areas of skin. There was a larger amount of bacteria belonging to Actinobacteria species in the vitiligo skin compared to normal skin, with a relatively higher amount of Firmicutes species.[5] While the significance of these particular bacteria is still undergoing research, it is known that other inflammatory skin diseases, including acne, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis, have also been associated with less diverse skin microbiomes compared to people with healthy skin.[8-10]

This research looking at the skin microbiome in vitiligo is exciting because it offers a step forward in understanding possible mechanisms behind vitiligo and even potential new treatment options. However, these results are only based on one study, and future research is needed to better understand the microbiome’s importance in skin health.

* This blog is for general skin, beauty, wellness, and health information only. This post is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.Integrative Dermatology Symposium.


1. Ursell LK, Metcalf JL, Parfrey LW, et al. Defining the human microbiome. Nutr Rev.2012;70 Suppl 1:S38-44; PMID: 22861806 Link to research.

2. Grice EA, Segre JA. The skin microbiome. Nat Rev Microbiol.2011;9(4):244-253; PMID: 21407241 Link to research.

3. Passeron T, Ortonne JP. Physiopathology and genetics of vitiligo. J Autoimmun.2005;25 Suppl:63-68; PMID: 16298511 Link to research.

4. Grimes PE, Nashawati R. The Role of Diet and Supplements in Vitiligo Management. Dermatol Clin.2017;35(2):235-243; PMID: 28317532 Link to research.

5. Ganju P, Nagpal S, Mohammed MH, et al. Microbial community profiling shows dysbiosis in the lesional skin of Vitiligo subjects. Sci Rep.2016;6:18761; PMID: 26758568 Link to research.

6. Prescott SL, Larcombe DL, Logan AC, et al. The skin microbiome: impact of modern environments on skin ecology, barrier integrity, and systemic immune programming. World Allergy Organ J.2017;10(1):29; PMID: 28855974 Link to research.

7. Clarke SF, Murphy EF, Nilaweera K, et al. The gut microbiota and its relationship to diet and obesity: new insights. Gut Microbes.2012;3(3):186-202; PMID: 22572830 Link to research.

8. Dagnelie MA, Corvec S, Saint-Jean M, et al. Decrease in Diversity of Propionibacterium acnes Phylotypes in Patients with Severe Acne on the Back. Acta Derm Venereol.2017;10.2340/00015555-2847PMID: 29136261 Link to research.

9. Langan EA, Griffiths CEM, Solbach W, et al. The role of the microbiome in psoriasis: moving from disease description to treatment prediction? Br J Dermatol.2017;10.1111/bjd.16081PMID: 29071712 Link to research.

10. Bjerre RD, Bandier J, Skov L, et al. The role of the skin microbiome in atopic dermatitis: a systematic review. Br J Dermatol.2017;177(5):1272-1278; PMID: 28207943 Link to research.