Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that causes your body’s defense mechanisms to attack pigmented cells, called melanocytes, in the skin, resulting in possibly permanent white patches. Vitiligo affects people of all ethnicities and all ages, although the majority of patients develop it before the age of 21. So why does your pigment suddenly disappear? Unfortunately, when it comes to vitiligo, there are few answers.
There are two types of vitiligo:
Generalized Vitiligo– the most common form, affects the entire body.
Segmental Vitiligo– affects only one side and part of the body.
Proper diagnosis is the first step to preventing further depigmentation and restoring color to the affected areas. Diagnosis is commonly based on the visual pattern and location of the depigmentation, family history and symptoms. While the exact cause of vitiligo is unclear, studies show that hereditary and genetics play a role.
The good thing about Vitiligo is that is isn’t painful. The primary (and most obvious) symptom of vitiligo is a patchy loss of skin color throughout the body, but usually first occurring on areas of the body that are often in the sun or are traumatized, such as the face, arms, and hands. Most patients will first notice an itchy sensation in the location where the white patches appear. Note: if vitiligo is present on the scalp or eyebrows, it can cause the hair to turn white.
Vitiligo can be difficult to treat. In fact, many patients live with this skin condition without seeking any treatment at all. Today, most of the treatments involve methods to re-pigment the skin, even out the overall skin tone, and limit the progression of the disease with:
- Phototherapy (medical exposure to ultraviolet light)
- Topical corticosteroids
- Autologous skin grafts from pigmented areas
- Medical tattooing (micropigmentation)
- Topical immunosuppressants
- The most drastic option is to de-pigment your skin. This is an option for people who have more than half of their body affected with de-pigmented skin.
IS THERE A CURE FOR VITILIGO?
Currently, no cure for vitiligo exists. However, research is continually being done to try to find a way to reverse the skin condition. Knowing the various triggers that can cause symptoms of vitiligo can be helpful in halting progression of the disease. Stress, extensive exposure to sunlight and chemical exposures can trigger symptoms to become present. Since it is an autoimmune disorder, Vitiligo can also be triggered by an autoimmune reaction where your immune cells attack your healthy skin cells.
Because de-pigmented skin is much more sensitive to sunlight, it is essential to protect your skin from the sun. Applying a daily SPF to the affected areas should become part of your routine with vitiligo.