Vitiligo is a rare skin condition that has affected many people worldwide. In India, the prevalence of this skin disorder has been reported between 0.25% and 4%, although the percentage is invariable. According to Medical News Today, vitiligo affects all racial groups equally. However, as the symptoms of the condition are more apparent on dark skin, individuals from specific groups may be impacted more as compared to others.
Although vitiligo can occur at any point in one’s life, its onset during early infancy or old age is not common. Read this guide to know the early signs of vitiligo, vitiligo causes, potential treatment, and much more.
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a skin condition characterised by loss of skin colour in patches. The lightening of pigmentation in the skin causes discoloured areas that generally get bigger and more noticeable with time. Although the condition affects the skin, it can impact your hair, inside of the mouth, and eye colour as well.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
Signs and symptoms of vitiligo are:
- Loss of skin colour in patches, generally seen on the face, arms, feet, legs, and hands
- Loss of colour in the tissues inside the mouth and nose
- Premature greying of hair on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial hair
- Loss of colour in the eyes
Vitiligo – Causes and Complications
Although the exact causes of the skin condition are not known, there are some theories. According to experts, vitiligo is caused by a lack of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment that gives colour to the skin and hair and is produced by melanocytes. When melanocytes die or stop functioning, there is a dearth of melanin in the skin. This is when the vitiligo can develop. Other reasons why vitiligo occurs include:
- Autoimmune disorder
- Genetics or family history
- Neurogenic factors
- Other triggers such as stress, sunburn, contact with chemicals, etc.
The real reasons for vitiligo in people are not known to date. However, it is known that individuals with vitiligo are at an increased risk of developing psychological distress, eye problems, sunburn and hearing loss.
Vitiligo Potential Treatments
Although there is no cure for vitiligo, treatment is available. The goal of the treatment is to either restore the original colour or eradicate the remaining colour. Some of the treatments for vitiligo include:
No matter what causes vitiligo to spread, medications can’t stop or control it. However, when combined with other treatments, some drugs may restore the original skin tone. Some of the medications doctors prescribe to vitiligo patients include:
- Corticosteroid creams, pills, or injections
- Topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus
2. Light Therapy
Phototherapy with narrowband ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) is one of the most effective treatments to slow down or stop the vitiligo progression. Since the FDA has warned about using calcineurin inhibitors because they are linked to skin cancer, many people opt for light therapy.
Well, phototherapy will require 2-3 weekly sessions for several months. Those who can’t visit a doctor in person can resort to a handheld device for at-home narrowband ultraviolet B therapy or treatment. This treatment’s possible side effects include itching, a burning sensation, or redness. However, these side effects are temporary and will abate after a few hours.
Caution: When administered over the long term, phototherapy can engender some adverse effects, such as skin ageing and tanning.
The excimer laser is another effective form of light therapy generally used for patients who do not have large patches of pigmented skin. In this light therapy, the light of wavelength close to narrowband UVB is emitted and directed at small areas affected by vitiligo. Since the laser doesn’t touch the affected skin directly during the treatment, the risk of UV exposure reduces greatly.
3. Camouflage Therapy
Camouflage therapy is the concealment of discolored areas with the help of liquid dyes, foundation-based cosmetic camouflages, micro pigmentation, and other medical makeup. Many cases involve depigmentation therapy, where certain drugs are applied to the affected skin patches to match them to the rest of the areas that have turned white.
If other treatments do not deliver the desired results or fail to work, a doctor may recommend surgery in such cases. Some of the techniques your dermatologist may use are:
- Micropigmentation: Known as medical tattooing, it involves implanting small particles of pigments under the patient’s skin.
- Skin Grafting: This procedure involves transferring healthy areas of the skin to white patches or areas affected by vitiligo. Possible side effects are infection, scarring, and failure of the area to recolour.
- Cellular Suspension Transplant: In this repigmentation procedure, melanocyte cells are used for autologous transplantation. Some possible complications include uneven skin tone and scarring.
When to See a Doctor?
If you witness a change in the appearance of your skin, consult a dermatologist right away. Your doctor will examine your condition and recommend drugs, therapies or surgery. A dermatologist can also suggest a combination of approaches for effective results.
You can’t prevent vitiligo from happening in the first place. However, the American Academy of Dermatology Association and other experts recommend taking some preventive measures, such as:
- Protect the skin from harmful UV rays of the sun. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or more. Follow these summer skincare tips to protect your skin.
- Seek shade and wear dark clothes. Clothing with SPF is recommended.
- Don’t get a tattoo.
- Don’t use tanning beds.
Although vitiligo is not a life-threatening skin condition, it can impact one psychologically. If you have recently been diagnosed with the disease, it will take time to accept your condition and live with it. We recommend consulting a professional dermatologist who can devise a suitable treatment plan to stop or slow down the progression of active vitiligo. Visit Skin and Hair Academy to contact board-certified dermatologists in your area and seek timely help.