What is Vitiligo?
The team at Colour Derma is very familiar with vitiligo and its various impacts. We would like to share our knowledge to promote understanding and offer help where we can. The following information is based on our experience as well as sources including DermNet NZ, the Mayo Clinic, and the NHS UK.
Vitiligo is a skin condition where patches of white skin appear on a person’s body. This disorder affects around 1% of the world population. While not as common among young children, it seems to start showing at around 10 to 30 years old. Patches often occur on the arms, hands, feet, and face, but it can be almost anywhere. And the patches may grow over time.
What does vitiligo look like?
First, a little science. Melanin is a chemical your body produces to give your skin its colour, or pigmentation, through melanocytes, a type of skin cell. Vitiligo results from your body’s immune system attacking these cells. Usually, this begins with small white spots on the hands or face but also in other parts of the body, including inside your mouth, nose, and other areas. If it affects areas where there is hair, the hair may also lose pigmentation and turn white as well.
Patches of Vitiligo can grow or spread, but usually, they stay in the same place. Because it is a loss of skin colour, it tends to be more noticeable in people with naturally darker skin tones. The edges around the vitiligo may feel rough, and sometimes the skin may itch before the white patches appear. But it normally does not cause any physical pain. And there are rare cases where it resolves itself over time; however, vitiligo is usually permanent.
What causes vitiligo?
While the medical community has identified vitiligo as a skin condition, they have yet to determine the exact cause. There are a few potential causes, including:
- Autoimmune issues. These disorders, such as hyperthyroidism, pernicious anaemia, or adrenocortical insufficiencies, may cause your immune system to attack the melanocytes that produce the melanin, causing vitiligo.
- Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which attacks the lymphatic system, have been seen as risk factor for this skin condition.
- There have been genetic links and vitiligo. Both the Vitiligo Society and the Cleveland Clinic claim that a family history of the condition occurs in around 30% of cases.
- Neurological factors. Some believe that nerve endings in the skin may release substances that are toxic to melanocytes. However, what causes this is unclear itself.
- Trigger events. Your body may respond to certain events such as physical or emotional stress (Jon Hamm famously got vitiligo from the stress of filming Mad Men), skin damage (e.g., severe sunburn), or chemical exposure, with vitiligo.
Although we may not know exactly the cause, we do know that it is not contagious and that you cannot infect someone else if you have it.
Are there any major impacts of vitiligo?
Even though it may not be painful and is not infectious, you still should take care of your skin and yourself if you have vitiligo. Most issues are mild, and you may choose not to treat it, especially if it is not that noticeable on you. However, you should be aware of any itchiness around the patches and make sure to use sunscreen or keep covered up, as the vitiligo patches may be more susceptible to sunburns since there is no pigmentation to protect your skin. In some cases, if the vitiligo is around your eyes, ears, or nose, there may be physical complications, so you should see your doctor in these cases.
The main impacts of vitiligo are the emotional and psychological ones. If you have vitiligo that is widespread and noticeable, it may make you self-conscious and affect your self-confidence. For this, you need to make sure you have a proper support system and take the right measures for you. There are many support groups around the world, such as the Vitiligo Association of Australia.
How do you treat vitiligo?
While there is no known medical cure for vitiligo, there are some treatments you may want to consider. If you hear about “cures” such as special oils or herbal supplements, please take a moment to consider them as you may waste your time and money. Also, there may be a chance that these “treatments” may cause more harm. Talk to a medical professional you trust.
Currently accepted treatments include:
- Sun protection. As mentioned earlier, you should keep the affected area out of the sun as much as possible. Use sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher (higher is better). But if you do stay out of the sun, then you may want to start taking vitamin D supplements to keep your bones healthy.
- There are certain drugs, especially corticosteroid creams, which can be effective in returning your skin colour. These usually work best if vitiligo is in its early stages. There are also medicines usually used for eczema that may also help. For these medications, you should consult your doctor or dermatologist to discuss the best option and any side effects.
- Exposing skin with vitiligo with narrowband ultraviolet A or B light has been successful in stopping or slowing the condition from spreading. Often you may need to take a drug that increases your skin’s light sensitivity. Please note that this is not the same as using a sunlamp or tanning bed and that again, you should seek medical assistance for this type of therapy.
- Skin grafts. This is only an option if your vitiligo has stopped spreading, and it is not a widely available procedure. Unlike traditional skin grafts, this entails lasering the top layer of the affected area and replacing it with a chemically treated section of healthy skin removed from a hidden area, like your thigh. That healthy section grows and re-pigments the white patches to your natural skin tone, usually with smooth healing and little to no scarring.
- Camouflage make-up. While not quite a medical treatment, camouflage makeup is a non-invasive, safe way to conceal your vitiligo. Properly chosen and applied, you can have a natural appearance without any drugs, and in many cases, the makeup will provide a layer of protection against the sun. You can use this as your only solution, or you can use camouflage make-up at the same time as other treatments.
Talk to Colour Derma about your vitiligo
Colour Derma has years of experience helping people with their skin conditions. We offer a range of camouflage make-up solutions, and we are happy to discuss your vitiligo and help you decide what the best course of action is for you. Contact us today to find out more!