This is an unusual skin disease that is characterized by loss of pigment in certain areas. The result is patches of discolored skin, often pale in color, and much lighter than surrounding skin. While vitiligo most commonly affects the skin, it may affect any part of the body where there is pigment, including the inside of the mouth, eyes, and hair. The discoloration often occurs equally on both sides of the body, and the vitiligo may occur in small and hardly noticeable patches. However, it is also possible for the vitiligo to affect large areas of the body. The latter can cause self-consciousness and embarrassment.
Causes of Vitiligo
The exact causes of vitiligo are unknown. What scientists do know is that vitiligo occurs when melanocytes—which are pigment-containing cells—die. The death of these cells may be caused by an autoimmune disorder. Having an autoimmune disorder, having a family history of vitiligo, or suffering from Hashimoto’s disease all increase a person’s risk of developing vitiligo. Typically, the symptoms of the disease are first developed before a person reaches the age of 21.
A person who is at-risk for developing vitiligo may reduce their risk by avoiding the sun, wearing sunscreen, and never using tanning beds. Vitiligo patients should also avoid tattoos. Getting a tattoo harms the skin, which can result in a new patch of vitiligo within two weeks.
A dermatologist diagnoses vitiligo by examining the patient’s medical history and skin. Sometimes, medical tests are necessary. The dermatologist may take a small skin sample to biopsy and the skin is numbed before this easy procedure.
If the diagnosis is vitiligo, blood tests may be recommended to look for other autoimmune disorders.
The types of vitiligo are:
- Generalized – The most common type of vitiligo. Skin usually loses color equally on both sides of the body. Color loss can affect the arms and legs, including the hands, fingertips, feet and also around the eyes or mouth. In the beginning, color loss may be rapid. This is often followed by a period of little or no color loss.
- Localized – Also called segmental vitiligo, this type causes color loss on one part or segment of the skin. Hair color may also be lost in the involved area. Often, a patch of hair on the head, an eyelash or eyebrow turns white. Color loss often occurs for a year or two, and then stops.
- Acrofacial – Color loss occurs only on the head, hands and feet.
- Universal – Color loss occurs on most of the body.
There is no cure for vitiligo. A person who has vitiligo will live with the condition for the remainder of their life. However, changes in pigmentation may be reversed or corrected.
Types of treatment options to restore pigment to the skin include:
- Xtrac Laser Therapy
- Cosmetic products (makeup)
- Topical medicines
- Light treatment
- PUVA light therapy
- Homeopathic remedies (vitamins and minerals, herbs, etc.)
- Depigmentation (removing remaining pigment from the skin)
Coping with Vitiligo
Vitiligo is a skin condition that little information is known about, and research is still ongoing. Coping with vitiligo can be challenging, and knowing the best course of action for treatment may be confusing.
To help you understand vitiligo, it is important that you find a dermatologist whom you trust and who is a good listener. A dermatologist can provide you with more information about vitiligo, how to reduce the risk of your vitiligo spreading, and which treatment options might work for you.
Make an Appointment With a Dermatologist Near You Today
If you have a family history of vitiligo, have noticed changes in color on your own skin, or have been diagnosed with vitiligo, it is time to make an appointment with a dermatologist near you. Use the links below to find a clinician or a location near you.