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Can chemicals cause vitiligo?

Source: Beijing Zhongke Vitiligo Hospital

Yes, certain chemicals can, indeed, induce or worsen vitiligo. Most commonly they include phenols, such as 4-tertiary-butyl phenol (4-TBP, found in adhesives) or 4-tertiary-butyl catechol (4-TBC, found in rubber and other products).

There are a number of commercial products that have been reported to induce vitiligo, and most of them contain phenols. A study was performed by a group in India to identify products that cause vitiligo, and below is a list of suspicious products that they identified, which includes permanent hair dyes, some detergents, and other ornamental dyes sometimes used on the skin. The problem is, exactly which products do this, and what chemicals are directly responsible, is not yet clear, and it is impossible to avoid all suspicious products. Also, it is unlikely that every chemical has this effect on every patient with vitiligo, so some products may be harmful for some patients but not others.

Rubber gloves

Lubricating and motor oils


Printing inks

Hair dye



Adhesive “bindi”

Rubber sandal

Black socks/shoes


Lip liner

Rubber condom


Fur toys



Alta (decorative color on feet)

Amulet string.

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