What is vitiligo?

  • • Vitiligo is a condition in which areas of skin lose their normal pigment and become white.
  • • It is common, affecting about 2% of the population.
  • • It can start at any age after birth.
  • • The extent of the condition is unpredictable, varying from single small patches to total loss of skin color. In most people, it tends to change slowly, with periods of stability often lasting several years.

What causes vitiligo?

  • • The pigment that gives your skin its normal color is called melanin and is made by cells known as melanocytes. In patches of vitiligo the melanocytes are inactive but still present. The reason for this is not fully understood. However, vitiligo is considered to be an 'autoimmune' condition in which the body own immune system rejects some of its own cells (melanocytes in the case of vitiligo). As a result, thyroid disease and other autoimmune conditions are more common in individuals with vitiligo.
  • • Repeated trauma such as rubbing or scratching the skin may trigger vitiligo.
  • • Vitiligo affects men and women equally.
  • • It is not infectious.
  • • There is no link between diet or smoking and vitiligo.

Is vitiligo hereditary?

Yes, vitiligo has a genetic basis, although less than half of those with vitiligo know of someone in their family who also has it. If you have vitiligo, it does not necessarily follow that your children will develop it.

What are the symptoms of vitiligo?

  • • Vitiligo is not usually itchy or sore. Sunlight may cause sunburn to exposed areas.

What does vitiligo look like?

  • • Vitiligo consists of round to oval patches of skin that lack the normal melanin pigmentation, and are thus white. It is often symmetrical, affecting both sides of the body, although less commonly, it can be localized to one part of the body. The skin otherwise feels entirely normal.
  • • The most common sites for vitiligo are the hands and face, around body openings (the eyes, nostrils, mouth, umbilicus and genital regions), and within body folds such as the underarms and groin.
  • • When hairbearing skin is involved, the hair may lose its pigment and appear white.
  • • Repigmentation (recovery) often commences around hair follicles, initially giving the skin a speckled appearance.

How will vitiligo be diagnosed?

The diagnosis is usually easily made by Dermatologist. Occasionally, examination under an ultraviolet lamp is helpful to confirm affected areas, especially in light-skinned people. Once the diagnosis of vitiligo has been made, your doctor may take a blood sample to check for thyroid disease and for other autoimmune conditions.

Can vitiligo be cured?

There is no cure for vitiligo. Although treatment may be helpful in restoring the color, it cannot prevent its spread or recurrence and repigmentation (recovery) may not be permanent.

How can vitiligo be treated?

There are a number of treatment options that can be discussed with your dermatologist.This includes-
  • • Good sun protection - Areas of vitiligo will burn easily in the sun. The use of a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to all exposed areas helps to protect skin affected by vitiligo. Other standard sun protection measures, such as appropriate protective clothing and sun avoidance should also be employed.
  • • Application of topical corticosteroidsand other anti-inflammatory creams and ointmentsto areas of vitiligo may restore some pigment. Short courses of oral steroids can sometimes be considered.
  • • Phototherapy- This involves exposing affected skin to artificial ultraviolet light. Treatment often lasting at least several monthsused in combination with topical or oral corticosteroid treatments. Areas such as the fingertips and the skin around the lips are less likely to improve.
  • • Surgical treatment. This process involves transplanting small areas of normal skin into areas of stable vitiligo.
  • Excimer laser- This works best on vitiligo that has not changed for a long time and affects relatively small areas of skin.
  • • Skin camouflage creams and powder- There are good quality camouflage products in a range of colors that are water resistant and less likely to rub off. Your dermatologist can advise or refer you to a camouflage service for this.