Vitiligo affects about 1% of people worldwide when the pigmentation cells stop functioning and the skin loses its colour. As such, in the vitiligo skin condition, white patches appear on a person’s body which gradually spread over other parts within months.
In scientific terms, vitiligo patches appear when melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin or the original skin colour) begin to diminish. This causes the skin to become white. It is essential to understand its different types and patterns to treat vitiligo properly.
Common Types of Vitiligo
Vitiligo can affect and appear in any skin area, but most commonly, it occurs on the face, neck, and hands. However, the condition may vary from person to person. Two common types of vitiligo are—
- Segmental Vitiligo This is a rare type in which the vitiligo patches appear only on one side of the body. This may be one side of the face, leg or arm. The onset of segmental vitiligo commonly begins at a young age. It is known to spread for about 1 to 2 years, after which it may stop.
- Nonsegmental Vitiligo Non-segmental vitiligo or generalised vitiligo occurs when patches appear symmetrically on both sides of the body, such as the face, on both hands or knees.
In this type, the vitiligo skin spreads over various body parts and causes rapid loss of skin colour or pigment.
Other types of vitiligo incude Focal, Acro-Facial, Vulgaris, and Universalis.
Patterns of Spreading
Depending upon the patient’s condition, vitiligo skin can spread in various ways. Three types of vitiligo spreading patterns are recognised—
- Generalised This is one of the most common spreading patterns in which the vitiligo patches grow on various body parts. Depending on the patient’s condition, the patches may spread in large patterns or stay the same size.
- Clouding In this type, sizeable cloud-like vitiligo patches appear that gradually merge with other white patches, eventually forming an even larger patch that diminishes the original skin colour.
- Sporadic In the sporadic spreading pattern, the vitiligo patches begin to appear in the form of pin dots. These eventually join other pin dots to form a bigger patch. This type of spreading appears on the back and the forearms.
The primary symptom of vitiligo is loss of natural skin colour. This condition is also known as depigmentation. Some of the common patterns of depigmentation include:
- Depending upon the severity, the size of the vitiligo patches varies from person to person. Usually, they range from a few millimetres to a few centimetres.
- Commonly, milky-white patches appear on the scalp, face, neck, dorsum or the back of the hands and trunk. On the face, vitiligo skin usually has a perioral (around the mouth) and periocular (around the eye) distribution.
- Lesions or vitiligo patches may also appear in areas like the knees and elbows.
- Hair becomes white in the affected areas of depigmentation. This includes eyelashes, eyebrows, beards, etc.
- 20% to 60% of vitiligo patients may also experience Koebnerization, i.e., the formation of vitiligo patches on parts of the body where a person does not usually experience lesions.
What Causes Vitiligo to Spread?
The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown Both genetic and non-genetic factors commonly cause the condition. The causes of vitiligo can be determined as follows—
1. Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases in which the body’s immune system damages melanocytes (pigmentation producing skin cells) are the most commonly agreed cause of vitiligo in medical research. These diseases include Rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, Thyroid disease, and Addison’s disease.
2. Genetic Factors
Medical findings have established that vitiligo can be inherited, and the occurrence of vitiligo is more common among people having a family history of the disorder. Furthermore, genetic factors can cause and even influence the age of onset of vitiligo.
3.Neurogenic or Neurochemical factors
The production of a toxic chemical released from the nerve endings in the skin also causes vitiligo. This chemical is especially damaging to the melanocyte skin cells, known to cause vertigo skin.
How Can I Prevent Vitiligo?
Since the causes of vitiligo are unknown, a complete cure with long-lasting effects for vitiligo is not certain.
However, to prevent vitiligo, one should avoid sun exposure. Sunburns on lighter vitiligo patches can be painful. It is, therefore, necessary to take good care of the skin by staying out of the sun, especially when it is the hottest during the day. Wearing sun-protective clothes, and applying sunscreen after consulting a dermatologist, among other summer skincare tips, are some of the essential preventive measures for vitiligo patients.
Another medical line of treatment creates a uniform skin tone through repigmentation (restoring colour) and depigmentation (eliminating the remaining colour).
There are also camouflage therapy, light therapy and surgery. However, proper evaluation and guidance from a certified dermatologist is a must.
Concerns about their appearance cause vitiligo patients to suffer from low self-esteem and poor self-image. It significantly impacts their quality of life. People can also be unkind and pass rude comments about vitiligo patches on the patient’s skin. It is essential to remember that vitiligo is a non-contagious and non-threatening disease. Thus, embracing it and getting the proper treatment is the way forward for vitiligo patients. It is also crucial to understand different types of vitiligo and how it spreads.
Being well-informed through Skin and Hair Academy may help you empathise with and take care of people with vitiligo.