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Vitiligo

What is Vitiligo? 

Vitiligo is a skin condition caused by progressive depigmentation; it presents as white patches on the skin. Although any part of the body can be affected, vitiligo is usually found on the face, elbows, knees, hands, feet, genitals and upper thighs. When the scalp is affected, the hair growing on the vitiligo patch is white. Vitiligo can also affect the chin or eyelid, in which case the lashes or beard become white. The texture of the depigmented skin is not altered and the condition is not painful, although the affected skin may be much more sensitive to the sun.

Vitiligo affects both sides of the body equally, often symmetrically, and the borders of the white patches are irregular but well-defined. White patches may appear gradually or suddenly. Vitiligo is not uncommon, affecting about one percent of the population. It can cause emotional distress for the sufferer because of how it makes the skin look.

Vitiligo appears to be an autoimmune disorder in which immune cells attack melanocytes, the cells that produce pigment; why this happens is not yet known. Vitiligo runs in some families; can appear at any age; affects both sexes equally; and affects people of every skin color. There is also some correlation between vitiligo and three other autoimmune diseases: pernicious anemia, hyperthyroidism and Addison's disease.

What is the treatment for Vitiligo? 

Vitiligo is a very difficult disorder to treat. In most cases, patients just live with it, using sunblock to protect white patches from sunburn and/or makeup to camouflage them. Although it used to be believed that melanin was the only agent protecting the body from sun damage, vitiligo has shown that that is not the case; some patients suffer severe sunburn on vitiligo patches and others do not. In all cases, however, it is important for patients with vitiligo to use sunblock.

There are several treatments for vitiligo that are used with varying degrees of success. They include the following:

  • Phototherapy (medical exposure to ultraviolet light)
  • Topical drugs (to increase skin sensitivity to light)
  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Topical immunosuppressants
  • Autologous skin grafts from pigmented areas
  • Medical tattooing (micropigmentation)

Schedule your appointment at Sunshine State Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center at 941-282-3376 to learn more about how to start vitiligo treatment.