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Medically reviewed by Dr. Samuel Sarmiento, M.D., MPH on August 3, 2023

A recent report sheds light on the potential of surgical treatments for vitiligo, a skin condition that causes loss of pigment, resulting in white patches on the skin. These findings could bring hope and new treatment possibilities for those living with vitiligo.

  • Surgical procedures may offer a solution for vitiligo that isn’t responsive to medical treatments. 
  • An initial presence of CD8+ T cells in your vitiligo-affected skin could indicate a positive response to surgical treatment. 
  • Combining surgical treatments with other therapies might yield better results.

Surgical Approaches for Treating Vitiligo

Vitiligo can be a challenging condition to manage, with some areas resistant to standard treatments, such as topical creams and ultraviolet (UV) exposure. If you’ve been facing treatment challenges, surgical methods that involve transplanting melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells, into the depigmented skin might be a suitable option. However, traditionally, the success rate has been relatively low, particularly for non-segmental vitiligo.

The Role of CD8+ T Cells in Determining Treatment Success

A report published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology looked at various factors that could predict the success of a specific surgical treatment known as epidermal suspension grafting in vitiligo patients. The researchers found that the presence of CD8+ T cells, a type of immune cell, in the vitiligo lesion prior to grafting was linked to successful repigmentation.

This suggests that checking for CD8+ T cells in vitiligo lesions before surgery could help identify patients likely to respond positively to the treatment. If you’re considering surgical treatment for your vitiligo, discussing this test with your doctor might be beneficial.

The Potential of Combined Treatments

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The report also points to the potential of combining different treatments for more effective vitiligo management. If your vitiligo lesions show a CD8+ T cell presence, suggesting a less likely response to surgical treatments alone, a combination of surgical procedures with topical or systemic immune-modulating therapies might offer better results.

Previous studies have reported positive results when surgical procedures are combined with light therapy or when topical or oral steroids are associated with grafting procedures.

Recent studies encourage a rethinking of our approach to vitiligo treatment. Instead of choosing between surgical and medical treatments, combining these strategies, especially when guided by the presence of CD8+ T cells in the lesion, might lead to more successful outcomes, offering hope for those living with vitiligo.


Passeron, T. (2023). Surgical Approaches for Repigmenting Vitiligo 2.0. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jid.2023.04.012