About the Vitiligo Process
Vitiligo is a condition in which white patches develop on the skin. Any location on the body can be affected and most people with vitiligo have white patches on many areas of the body.
Melanin is the pigment that gives the skin its characteristic color. Vitiligo is caused by a loss of pigment in the skin, due to destruction of pigment-forming cells known as melanocytes. The exact cause of the destruction of these cells is not known. One possible explanation might be that the body’s immune system destroys the cells, as in other autoimmune conditions. Although vitiligo affects all races equally, it is more noticeable in dark-skinned people.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
Symptoms of vitiligo include an often rapid pigment loss on several areas of the skin. The initial appearance of the white patches can be followed by a stable period without any progression of the condition. Later on, further cycles of pigment loss and stability may be observed. Vitiligo commonly affects areas on the skin that are exposed to sun, body folds (such as armpits), previous sites of injury, areas around moles, or areas around body openings. It is rare for pigment to return once the white patches have developed. Vitiligo can also affect the eyelids and hair.
Myths About Vitiligo Treatment
Three myths about the treatment of vitiligo prevail in the medical profession.
- The first myth is that treatment of vitiligo is “impossible.” This is clearly not true and the majority of patients can achieve good results.
- The second myth is that oral psoralens, which form the basis for some vitiligo treatments are “toxic to the liver.” Oral psoralens are not toxic to the liver.
- The third myth is that psoralen + UVA (PUVA) treatments for vitiligo “cause cancer of the skin.” When used to treat vitiligo, PUVA therapy requires only a limited number of treatments-approximately 150 in number that has not been shown to cause skin cancer. By comparison, PUVA treatments for psoriasis can be as many as double the number for vitiligo. It has been shown that a small percentage of patients who receive more than 250 PUVA treatments can develop treatable squamous cell cancers of the skin.
The Vitiligo Treatment Advantage
For many, vitiligo is not just a cosmetic problem-it is a major social dysfunction that seriously curtails their ability to lead a normal work, social or married life. Reversal of the white spots and restoration of normal skin color is therefore the primary hope for all these disfigured vitiligo patients.
Your doctor can usually make the diagnosis of vitiligo during a physical exam. There is no known way to prevent or cure vitiligo. However, several methods, including cosmetics, re-pigmentation using UV light therapy, corticosteroid creams, depigmentation of unaffected skin areas, and skin grafting, can be used to improve the appearance of skin severely affected by vitiligo.