Hypomelanosis conditions are known since ancient times. The most ancient names to describe these pictures were "Shwetakustha" and "Suitra".
The term ´Shweta-Kushtha´, in the book Atharva-Veda of the 15th century BC, can be translated literally as white (shweta) - leprosy (kushtha) while the term "suitra" is found in the Manusmriti, a work of Hindu law and ancient Indian society dating between the 2nd sec. BC and 2nd AD.
The vitiligo has long been confused with the leprosy and with other leukoderma diseases, therefore the Hebrew word 'Zora' or 'Tzaraat/Tzoraath' was translated using the Greek word "Lepros" and the Latin word "Lepra". There is a well-known example in the Old Testament. Naaman, captain of the hosts of the King of Syria, (suffering from psoriasis, Russel 1950), on the advice of Elisha, washed seven times in the Jordan to rid himself of 'Zaraath'.
The ancient Greek writers divided cutaneous diseases into three classes: psora, lepra, and lichen. The leprosy was also known to the Greeks under the name Elephantiasis Graecorum but in the early Middle Ages when the Arabic texts were being translated into Latin, the translators confused Lepra Graecorum with Elephantiasis Graecorum, making understand that all scaly conditions of the skin were due to the leprosy.
Therefore to describe the true leprosy was introduced the term: Lepra Arabum.
The term “vitiligo” has been derived instead from the Latin word “vitelius” and was coined by Aulus Cornelius Celsus (ca 25 BC—ca 50) in his work "De Medicina".
During all the early Middle Ages there is again a complete identification between hypomelanosis and Leprosy and only in the early ´800 (1832), in the work of Dermatology of Baron Alibert, the picture of vitiligo is clarified definitively. (Abstract)
Prof. Camillo O. Di Cicco, MD
American Association for the History of Medicine
19th Congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology
Gothenburg, Sweden. 2010.