Vitiligo affects 0.76% to 1.11% of people in the United States? Pronounced vit-ih-LIE-go, Vitiligo is a dermatological condition that causes the skin to lose its pigment or color. Simply put, Vitiligo creates white or light-colored patches on the skin; these are medically referred to as macules. Melanin is responsible for giving your skin and hair its color. In the case of Vitiligo, there is a depletion or dysfunction of melanin-producing cells, leading to skin coloration.
While Vitiligo can affect individuals of all ethnicities, it may be more conspicuous in those with brown or black skin tones. It is essential to emphasize that Vitiligo is neither life-threatening nor contagious, although it can give rise to emotional distress and negatively impact self-esteem. Continue reading to learn about the causes of Vitiligo, symptoms of Vitiligo, treatment of Vitiligo, and Vitiligo coping strategies.
Causes of Vitiligo
The exact cause of Vitiligo remains unclear, but it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system mistakes melanocytes – the healthy cells responsible for producing melanin (the pigment that gives skin its color) – as foreign invaders and produces antibodies to destroy them. However, this isn't the only factor that triggers the development of Vitiligo. Listed below are the common causes of Vitiligo:
- Genetic Changes: A change in your DNA or a genetic mutation can affect melanocyte functioning, increasing your chances of developing the skin disorder. In fact, more than 30 genes in your body can make you vulnerable to Vitiligo.
- Autoimmune Condition: Your immune system might mistakenly target and destroy melanocytes, causing skin depigmentation.
- Neurological Factors: Physical or emotional stress can affect melanocyte cells' functioning, leading to Vitiligo.
- Environmental Triggers: Exposure to certain toxic chemicals and ultraviolet radiation can increase one's likelihood of developing Vitiligo.
Although Vitiligo can affect people of all sexes, races, and ages, the white patches are more prominent in dark-skinned individuals. According to researchers, people who are likely to develop the condition include those afflicted with Anemia, Addison's Disease, Type 1 Diabetes, Lupus, Psoriasis, Thyroid Disease, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
Hair on different areas of your body turning white, gray, or silver, and light-colored or white patches on the body are two of the common symptoms of Vitiligo. These patches can vary in size, shape, and location and typically have a sharp border with normal skin.
The areas most commonly affected include the face, hands, feet, elbows, knees, genitals, and areas around body openings such as the eyes, nostrils, and mouth.
While in some cases of Vitiligo, depigmentation might remain stable and only affect a small area of your body, in others, it might progress and affect larger areas of the body over time. To better understand, refer to the table below to learn about the six types of Vitiligo:
|Type of Vitiligo||Characteristics|
|Segmental Vitiligo||This condition exhibits a unilateral impact, exclusively affecting either one side of the body or specific localized regions, such as the face or hands.|
|Generalized Vitiligo||The most common type of Vitiligo. In Generalized Vitiligo, the depigmented patches frequently exhibit symmetrical progression on corresponding body regions.|
|Mucosal Vitiligo||It affects the mucous membranes of your genitals or/and mouth.|
|Trichome Vitiligo||This variant is characterized by forming a bullseye pattern, featuring a central area of depigmentation or colorlessness, followed by a lighter pigmented region, and finally transitioning into the unaffected natural skin tone.|
|Focal Vitiligo||It is a rare condition that only affects one or two areas of the human body.|
|Universal Vitiligo||In this case, over 80% of one's skin loses pigmentation.|
Even though thereis currently no cure for Vitiligo, several treatments can help manage the symptoms, promote repigmentation, and slow its progression. Before we move to the Vitiligo treatment plans, let us tell you how a dermatologist diagnoses the autoimmune disorder.
Vitiligo is diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and additional tests if required. The dermatologists closely examine the patient's skin for milky-white patches with defined borders. They often used a Wood's lamp or dermatoscopy for a more detailed assessment and to rule out other skin conditions. The dermatologist will then create a Vitiligo management and treatment plan based on your diagnosis and needs.
1. Depigmentation Therapy
Depigmentation therapy is usually used to treat patients with universal Vitiligo, where large areas of the skin have been affected, and repigmentation isn't possible. The dermatologist will use topical agents such as mequinol or monobenzone to remove the pigmentation from the unaffected areas of the skin. By intentionally reducing the remaining color, the depigmentation process helps achieve a more uniform appearance across the body.
Otherwise known as light therapy, phototherapy involves exposing the affected area of the skin to controlled ultraviolet radiation. Primarily two kinds of phototherapies are used to treat Vitiligo:
- Narrowband Ultraviolet B (NB-UVB): NB-UVB is the most common form of phototherapy for Vitiligo. Patients undergo regular sessions during which their affected skin is exposed to specific wavelengths of UVB light. The treatment stimulates the repigmentation of the depigmented areas by encouraging melanocyte activity. It is considered safer and more effective than broader UVB treatments.
- Psoralen plus Ultraviolet A (PUVA): PUVA involves the combination of a photosensitizing medication called psoralen and exposure to UVA light. Before the therapy, patients take psoralen orally or apply it topically. This makes the skin more sensitive to UVA light, stimulating melanin production. PUVA treatment is generally reserved for patients who do not respond to NB-UVB or have widespread Vitiligo.
3. Surgical Treatments
If the aforementioned Vitiligo treatments have failed, the dermatologist will use a surgical approach to treat the autoimmune condition.
- Blister Grafting: In blister grafting, blisters are created on the normally pigmented skin using suction. The tops of the blisters are then removed, and the underlying cells containing melanocytes are transferred to the depigmented areas.
- Skin Grafts: This procedure involves removing small sections of normally pigmented skin (grafts) and placing them into holes punched in the depigmented areas. Over time, the transplanted melanocytes begin to produce melanin, gradually improving the appearance of the affected skin.
Vitiligo Coping Strategies
Living with Vitiligo can be emotionally challenging precisely because of societal norms. The stigma is that you have to look a certain way or be considered weird or strange. Here are some dermatologist-advised coping strategies that will help you manage the impact of Vitiligo on your emotional and mental well-being:
- Sun Protection: Depigmented areas of your skin are more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer. Thus, apply sunscreen with SPF equal to or higher than 30 whenever you step outside. This will minimize tanning and protect your skin from harsh UV rays.
- Cosmetic Camouflage: Using cosmetic products like skin-colored makeup, skin correctors, or concealers can help you hide the depigmented areas.
- Lifestyle Changes: Understanding Vitiligo, joining support groups, and engaging in stress-reducing activities like meditation, yoga, or hobbies can positively impact mental health and overall well-being.
- Micropigmentation: Getting a tattoo over the Vitiligo-affected area is a great way to hide the patches permanently.
Reclaim Confidence with Suncoast Skin Solutions' Customized Vitiligo Care Plan!
Are you or a loved one struggling with Vitiligo? At Suncoast Skin Solutions, we understand the emotional impact of this condition and are dedicated to providing compassionate and effective care. Our team of experienced dermatologists and specialists offers personalized treatment plans to manage Vitiligo and promote repigmentation.