Vitiligo is a condition that causes an absence of melanin (the pigment that gives skin color) in patches of the skin. Along with the skin, vitiligo may also affect the eyes and mucous membranes. Vitiligo can affect anyone, however, it typically occurs in children and young adults, and those with darker skin (because they possess more melanin). This condition itself does not pose any immediate health problems, but skin that is affected with vitiligo is more prone to sunburn, which may lead to skin cancer in some people.

Cause of Vitiligo

There is no known cause of vitiligo; however, it is thought to be viral, autoimmune or genetic in nature. Melanin is continually broken down and replaced by cells known as melanocytes, but for people with vitiligo, the replacement process gets disrupted. There are two main types of vitiligo:

  • Non-segmental vitiligo is the most common type. People with this type of vitiligo typically have symmetrical lesions, which cover large areas of the body.
  • Segmental vitiligo usually spreads quicker than non-segmental vitiligo and typically occurs during the teenage years. Segmental vitiligo usually occurs in smaller, more localized areas of the body.

Symptoms of Vitiligo

The most common symptom is white or light patches of skin. The white patches are usually found on areas of the body that get a lot of sunlight, such as the face, forearms, back of the neck, hands and feet. The discoloration usually begins as small patches, but gradually increases in size. Vitiligo is often thought of as disfiguring, which encourages several other medical and psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Treatment for Vitiligo

If you think you have this disorder, you should go to your dermatologist for a consultation and official diagnosis. Although there is no cure for vitiligo, there are several treatment options. The primary goal of treatment is to restore the lost color to your skin. The best treatment will depend on various things, such as your overall health, age and where the vitiligo is on your body. Treatment options from your dermatologist may include:

  • PUVA light therapy, which is often used for widespread vitiligo. The treatment uses UVA light and psoralen (medicine to restore skin color). This treatment is not typically recommended for vitiligo on the hands or feet.
  • Light treatment one of the most common types of vitiligo treatment. Light is used to re-pigment the skin. For small areas, a laser is used, while a light box is used for large areas of vitiligo.
  • Topical ointments may be applied to the skin. One of the most common types of ointment used is a topical corticosteroid. Topical ointments are more effective for certain areas of the body, such as our face. They are not typically used on hands feet.
  • Surgery may be an option if the other treatments are not successful. There are several surgical procedures to choose from, but they all basically involve the removal of removing skin that is not affected and placing it where the pigment is needed.

It is important to keep in mind that not all vitiligo treatments will work for everyone. Many people choose to try other methods of concealing the vitiligo before they go to a dermatologist. For example, makeup or self-tanners may disguise small patches of vitiligo.

In some situations, combining two or more treatments may be necessary for the best results. For more information on vitiligo treatments, consider contacting a professional like those at Billings Clinic.