What is vitiligo?
In people with vitiligo, the brown color or pigment of the skin lightens in small and / or large patches. The light patches usually have edges that are irregular, dark, and well-defined. Even though the color of the skin is affected with vitiligo, the texture of the skin is normal. Vitiligo can appear suddenly, but it also can develop gradually. If you have vitiligo, there is no way to know how much of your skin will lose its color.
Vitiligo most often occurs on the lips, face, lips, hands, feet, elbows, knees, and genitals; but it also can appear around and inside the mouth, on the eyelids, inside the nose, and in the armpits.
Causes of Vitiligo
There is no known cause of vitiligo, but researchers believe it occurs when immune cells in the body destroy the cells that are responsible for color (or melanin) in the skin.
Who gets vitiligo?
Anyone can get vitiligo at any age. Data show that as many as 1 in 100 Americans have the skin condition.
Vitiligo appears most often in people who are age 40 years and younger. If you have family members with the condition and or other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis, you might be more likely to develop vitiligo than someone without a family history of the condition.
How do I know if I have vitiligo?
The only way to tell if you have vitiligo is during a consultation with a dermatologist, who can review your medical history and your family history. A good dermatologist will likely perform a physical exam, using an ultraviolet (UV) light to help determine whether your skin discolorations are from vitiligo.
If during your consultation Dr. Moy suspects that you have vitiligo, he will take a skin sample and a blood sample for lab analysis.
Is there treatment for vitiligo?
Although there is no cure for vitiligo, effective treatments can help slow or stop the condition from getting worse. Treatment also can help even the color of your skin by restoring its pigment or by removing pigment so that the light areas are less pronounced.
Treatment for vitiligo depends on the severity of your vitiligo as well as its type, your age, your overall health, and your treatment preferences.
Vitiligo treatment includes:
- Topical creams and ointments such as corticosteroids, calcipotriol, and tacrolimus that are used alone or in combination to add pigment to small areas of skin
- Phototherapy, which can be used to treat large areas of vitiligo
- Narrow-band ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) light therapy administered in 2 to 3 weekly sessions over several months to help replace the color of your skin.
- Excimer laser treatment with NB-UVB light therapy, which is used to treat the face and small areas on the body
- Combination topical or oral psoralen and ultraviolet A (PUVA) light therapy to add color to the skin on the face, upper arms, upper legs, and trunk
- Permanent color removal (or depigmentation) with monobenzone, a chemical that can help lighten large areas of skin so that it better matches the areas affected by vitiligo.
- Cosmetics, including makeup and dye to cover the white patches
- Surgery to replace small areas of skin affected by vitiligo
- Tattoos to color to small areas of skin
- Sunscreen to prevent skin from becoming very dark
Although it is rare, the color of the skin color returns without treatment in some people with vitiligo.
If your skin has begun to change color in certain areas
and you are concerned you might have vitiligo,
call Dr. Moy today