Vitiligo refers to the growth of colorless patches on your skin. This condition can affect people of any ethnic group, gender, and age. The patches are a result of your skin’s melanocytes dying off. Melanocytes are skin cells that produce melanin, a skin pigment to give your skin its color and protect it from the harmful UV rays. On average, it affects up to 2 percent of the world’s population.
How Does It Progress?
Vitiligo starts with small white patches on your skin that eventually spread to the rest of your body in several months. However, for some people, they may remain stagnant and not grow as well. Typically it begins on your hands, feet, face, and forearms but is not limited to these. They can develop on other parts of your body, too, such as the lining of your nose, mouth, or genital areas.
The total skin area affected by vitiligo differs among different individuals. Moreover, it can also affect your hair, eyes, and the inside of your mouth. In many cases, the areas affected by this condition remain discolored throughout a person’s life.
But you must note that there are some complications vitiligo accompanies, such as being photosensitive. This means that the area of your skin affected will be more sensitive to sunlight. Additionally, it is not easy to predict how much the patches will spread or how long it may take for them to spread. In many cases, they may also remain in the same place for many years.
Types of Vitiligo
Vitiligo is of many types such as:
Generalized: This is when macules appear on various parts of your body, and it is the most common type of vitiligo.
Segmental: This is when the patches are restricted to a single side or one particular area, such as the face or hands.
Mucosal: This is the type that affects the mucous membranes of your mouth or genitals etc.
Trichome: As the name suggests, it refers to three areas of your skin, one with a white center, then a lighter pigmentation area, and then a normal colored area.
Focal: It is quite rare and consists of macules in a small area. However, for one to two years at least, they do not spread in a particular pattern.
Universal: This is yet another rare type where over 80% of your body does not have enough pigment.
Causes of Vitiligo
There are many different theories regarding its causes; however, they aren’t completely understood.
Self-Destruction: According to this theory, sometimes there can be a defect in the melanocytes due to which they destroy themselves.
Genetic Factors: Some sources claim that genetic factors can increase your chances of having vitiligo. Furthermore, around 30% of vitiligo cases occur in families.
Neurogenic Factors: This theory claims that melanocytes can be affected by the release of a toxic substance at nerve endings.
Autoimmune Disorder: According to this theory, a person’s immune system may have antibodies causing melanocytes to be destroyed.
Regardless of what theories say, vitiligo may also be a result of emotional or physical stress. Furthermore, it can also be a combination of these factors collectively causing the condition.
Currently, a cure for vitiligo is not available; however, many treatments focus on creating a uniform skin tone by either:
Repigmentation: Restoring color
Depigmentation: Eliminating the color that’s remaining
Common treatments include
This vitiligo treatment involves the use of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. The sunscreen should be able to shield both Ultraviolet A and B light. This is how it ensures minimum tanning, hence limiting the contrast between normal and affected skin. Make-up can also help camouflage your depigmented areas, and if vitiligo affects your hair, hair dye can be a suitable option.
If the disease is extensive, dermatologists perform depigmentation therapy using the monobenzone drug. They apply the drug to your skin’s pigmented patches, which turns them white to match the remaining skin of your body.
This vitiligo treatment involves taking corticosteroids orally or topically (as a cream). It may take over three months to show results, and the doctor may also check for side effects in the meanwhile, such as stretch marks or thinning.
This vitiligo treatment involves the use of light and is suitable for adults or children if the condition is widespread and no other treatment has worked so far. For better results, it can also be combined with other treatments.
A special lamp is used to expose your skin to ultraviolet A or B light during this light therapy. To make your skin more sensitive to light, you may first be required to take psoralen. You can have it orally or add it to your bathwater. Sometimes it is also called PUVA, which means psoralen and UVA light.
Phototherapy may expose you to the risk of skin cancer because of the UVA rays involved in the treatment. However, with UVB light, the risk is lower. It is recommended that you discuss the possible risks with your dermatologist first.
Sunlamps are not recommended for light therapy and are not as effective as those used in a medical facility. They may not be safe at home as they’re not regulated well.
Skin graft procedure is another popular intervention to deal with vitiligo. It involves taking skin from part of the body and using it to cover another part. Some complications include infection, scarring, or even repigmentation failure.
As a last resort, counseling is often recommended to people suffering from distress due to the condition. Vitiligo can isolate you and affect your overall outlook on life. This is when you need psychological intervention to help you deal with it.
On the whole, it is not possible to prevent the condition as no one knows the causes for sure. However, it is smart to limit your sun exposure or adopt practices to lower the instances of harmful UV light affecting your skin.