Vitiligo and How to Deal With It

Here are some answers to the questions what is vitiligo and how to deal with it.

As I was packing my bikini for vacation, I decided to try it on to see how it fit. After looking at my body from every angle I noticed a small white spot on my leg. I knew right away that it was vitiligo which scared me since doctors are still mystified as to the cause of it.

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a relatively common skin condition affecting skin pigmentation. Medically speaking, it is characterized by the loss of melanocytes in the epidermis. This disorder causes the appearance of white, often symmetrical patches on the skin that increase in size over time. Eye color and hair color can also change. For people with darker skin tones, these patches can have a profound impact on self-esteem and quality of life. Victoria Secret’s Winnie Harlow has harnessed her unique beauty and is thriving as the first model to walk the runway with vitiligo as seen in this video.

While the exact cause is unknown, vitiligo is strongly suspected to be an autoimmune disorder. This means that the body’s immune system is essentially attacking itself. It is very common for people suffering from other autoimmune conditions to also have vitiligo.

 

There Are Three Types of Vitiligo:

  1. Segmental vitiligo (SV)

  2. Non-segmental vitiligo (NSV)

  3. Mixed vitiligo (MV)

You can read more about the types of vitiligo and how to deal with it by visiting this website.

Treatments

As of today, there is no true cure for vitiligo. However, there are several treatments that can slow its progression and help to mask its effects. First-line treatments include topical and oral steroids, calcineurin inhibitors, and UVB-therapy.

For severe cases that involve more than 40% total body surface area, the treatment strategy shifts from prevention to depigmentation. In depigmentation therapy, a skin-lightening agent, such as hydroquinone, is applied to unaffected areas two to three times per day for up to three years. This progressively lightens the surrounding skin to more closely match the vitiligo patches.

Surgery is also an option for treatment. However, it comes with additional side effects that often discourage patients from seeking this treatment. Surgery may work well for a particular subset of patients. This includes people under 20, those with smaller patches, and individuals who are at lower risk for hyperpigmentation and keloid formation. Nevertheless, one major problem with grafting surgeries is the lack of blending and matching with surrounding skin tissue. The newly grafted skin may create a “cobblestone”, “confetti” or “polka dot” effect.

Sunscreen and Vitiligo

Often times in my posts I talk about the importance of sunscreen, however, in the case of vitiligo it is essential! Due to the loss of melanocytes there is no way to produce melanin. This means that our built-in natural defense mechanism against the sun is gone! Without a melanin-defense system, once the white patches are exposed to UVA rays, you will have an increased risk for developing skin cancer.

Camouflaging Vitiligo Patches

You can experiment with sunless tanners. Most self-tanning products use the same base of DHA  which is the ingredient that darkens the skin. You can use a Q-tip or makeup brush to carefully fill in smaller areas or a gloved hand for larger sections. There are also many cosmetic products offering various skin-colored sprays, cream-based fountain sticks and fluids to cover color variances. You can check out one of my previous posts on self tanning here.

Support for People Living with Vitiligo

This is a global issue and there are many organizations offering support. I found Facebook groups and conferences dedicated to this life-changing topic. In one of the groups I reviewed they are asking for vitiligo to be recognized and classified as a disease. Additionally, they need government funding for research, awareness, and, finally, for it to be covered under medical insurance.

If you or one of your loved ones is living with vitiligo, consider talking to your doctor about joining a clinical trial. Clinical trials can offer access to treatments and can help provide the data needed to discover new drugs.

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