What is vitiligo? Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin color in certain areas on the body. It involves the process in which cells responsible for skin color, called melanocytes, are destroyed. These cells can no longer create melanin, or skin pigment, and therefore areas of the skin begin to lose color and turn pale. Almost 1% of the world’s population has vitiligo.
Lost pigment can occur anywhere on the body. It is more likely to occur on sun-exposed areas (hands, feet, arms, and face), inside the mouth, the nostrils, genitals, back of the eye, or within the ear. Hair in these affected areas can also turn grey or white.
Within this article we are going to look at vitiligo, and more specifically, its causes and treatment. It is important to note that this article includes research on the topic of vitiligo, but you should speak to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
The most obvious symptom of vitiligo includes those white and pale patches on the skin. These patches can vary in size, and can appear on any part of the body. There are two types of patches: segmental (focal) and non-segmental (generalized).
Segmental or focal patterns are usually smaller and only occur in one or a few areas on the body. In this event, vitiligo usually stays in one area and can continue for about a year, but then it stops. It also progresses slower than non-segmental or generalized vitiligo.
Non-segmental or generalized patterns involve widespread white patches that are almost symmetrical on the body. Generalized patterns are the most common and can appear anywhere on the body. It usually starts and stops over a person’s lifetime. Professionals do not know when or how fast these vitiligo patches can occur.
What causes vitiligo?
Firstly, the disease is not contagious. Someone who has vitiligo cannot give it to someone else. Unfortunately, there is no exact known cause of vitiligo. Most people who have vitiligo do not have a family history of the disease. However, if there is a family history of vitiligo, it can increase the risk of getting it.
Other risk factors include having autoimmune disorders. Vitiligo is believed to be an autoimmune disorder because it involves the body attacking its own cells. However, there is no clear evidence concerning how exactly the body attacks the pigment cells. People with vitiligo tend to have one other autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders include: scleroderma, lupus, thyroiditis, psoriasis, alopecia areata, type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia, Addison’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Additionally, genes associated with vitiligo, such as NLRP1 and PTPN22, can increase the risk of getting vitiligo. People can also experience the disorder after severe sunburns or cuts. High levels of stress and exposure to toxins and chemicals can also increase the risk of the disease.
There is no known cure for vitiligo. However, you can undergo treatment. There are several different treatment options, including medical, surgical, or both. Speak to your doctor about what treatment is best for you, especially because every individual may react differently.
- Oral Medications: These medications can include steroids and certain antibiotics.
- Topical Creams: There are some creams that can help slow down the growth of patches or help with the white color, including corticosteroids. In order to receive a strong enough cream, you will have to have it prescribed. However, be aware that there are possible side effects, such as skin shrinkage, hair growth, and irritation.
- PUVA Therapy: Psoralen and ultraviolet A (PUVA) therapy is a treatment option that requires you to take psoralen as a pill or a cream. Then, your doctor will expose you to UVA light, which in turn activates the drug and helps with the restoration of color to the skin.
- Narrow Band UVB Light: This works as an alternative to PUVA therapy and provides a focused kind of light therapy.
- Excimer Laser Treatment: This process is for small areas of patches.
- Depigmentation: This process involves the fading of the skin to match the white patches.
- Skin Grafting: Your doctor will remove the healthy, pigmented skin and transfer it to the patches.
- Melanocyte Transplants: Melanocytes are removed and then grown in a lab. After have reached the expected level of growth, they are transmitted to the patches on the skin.
- Micropigmentation: This process is best for the lip area and involves a doctor tattooing pigment into the skin.
Other Treatment Options
- Sunscreen: Reduce skin exposure to the sun and protect the affected areas.
- Makeup: Makeup or self-tanning lotions can help as a temporary solution.
- Psychotherapy: If you are experiencing difficulty managing your mental health, one option is to undergo psychotherapy. Vitiligo cannot only have physical effects, but it can also impact your mental state. If you feel as though you are experiencing negative mental health effects, reach out to your doctor.