Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin pigmentation in certain areas at a time. Often presenting itself as blotches of skin having lost its color/pigment. The rate and the extent of pigment loss is completely random and unpredictable. It can affect any part of the body, as well as the hair and inside of the mouth.
Melanin determines skin and hair color. Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. Vitiligo can affect people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious, however many may feel self-esteem issues as it is difficult to cover up.
Signs of vitiligo are:
- Patchy loss of skin color
- Loss of color on the outside of the mouth and nose
- Change in color of the retina
- Prematurely graying hair, on the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows and beard
It can appear all over the body or only in a few areas at a time, at any age; however, it most often occurs in individuals during their early to mid-20’s.
People with vitiligo may be at increased risk of:
- Social or psychological distress
- Sunburn and skin cancer
- Eye problems, such as inflammation of the iris (iritis)
- Hearing loss
Vitiligo occurs when melanin-production cells die out or cease function. Melanin or pigment gives your hair, skin and nails their color. When they die out these areas will begin to turn white and lose all color. The true reasoning for this stop in function of melanin-producing cells is unknown however, it may be linked to:
- Genetic disorders in the family history
- An immune system disorder, destroying the melanocytes in those areas of the skin
- Over exposure to sun
- Certain reaction to life stresses
- Exposure to industrial chemicals
There is truly no cure for Vitiligo or way to stop the loss of melanocytes, but certain medications used in conjunction with laser and light therapy can help restore skin tone. Skin grafting surgery is also an option; however, these are sometimes highly-invasive and may not produce the desired results. The most important thing to know is that people are still beautiful in their own individual ways, and your dermatologist can take steps to help you curb the aesthetics of the disease, using a combination of lasers, creams, and skin care medications. Consult with one of our board-certified dermatologists, and see what all your options are for treatment and maintenance.