Some people with vitiligo, a skin condition that alters and removes certain portions of one’s skin pigmentation, may want to seek treatment to restore their skin color. Whatever the case may be, having an understanding of vitiligo can help one make an informed decision on receiving treatment. Here are 8 things to know about vitiligo.
Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin, the amino acid that creates skin pigmentation. Dermatologists understand that when these cells stop functioning or die off, the skin loses pigmentation. This is known as vitiligo. However, there is still uncertainty surrounding the exact reason these cells stop doing their job in the first place. Right now, the best explanations have to do with immune system malfunction, heredity, and environmental triggers (chemicals, stress, UV rays from the sun, etc.) These may not be vitiligo causes, per se, but they seem to be major factors in determining its development.
There is no way to “catch” vitiligo, so there is no reason to worry about getting it from someone else. Likewise, if you have vitiligo, you don’t have to be overly cautious in public.
There are actually two main types of vitiligo, which are characterized by their formation speed and origin, symmetry (or lack thereof), and location. These are segmental vitiligo and non-segmental vitiligo. Non-segmental vitiligo is more common, usually showing up symmetrically on both sides of the body. For example, if the left knee is affected, the right knee will be, too. Non-segmental vitiligo tends to come in spurts, as the skin rapidly loses pigmentation then stops for a while before starting again.
Segmental vitiligo is somewhat less common, typically covers a smaller area, and usually develops at an earlier age. Unlike non-segmental vitiligo, this type is asymmetrical, only affecting one segment of the body at a time. The loss of pigmentation may only progress for a year or so before stopping.
Vitiligo symptoms can start appearing at any stage of life, but most people with vitiligo experience pigmentation changes between the ages of 10 and 30. It’s rare that a person develops vitiligo after the age of 40, though it is possible.
While vitiligo is primarily a skin condition, it can also spread to other parts of the body such as the eyes and hair (of course, hair is related to the skin).
Vitiligo is mainly a cosmetic concern and not life-threatening by any means. However, certain cases and complications can cause damage. For instance, if vitiligo spreads to the eyes, it can impact vision via eye inflammation (iritis). Likewise, vitiligo can cause hearing loss if it spreads near the ear canal. Additionally, vitiligo patients may be at greater risk for sunburn and skin cancer. And lastly, vitiligo can cause a lot of stress from its potential impact on social interactions, leading to or exacerbating mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
Just as dermatologists and researchers are working to uncover the root cause of vitiligo, they’re still searching for a cure.
Fortunately, several vitiligo treatment options are available, and they’re constantly improving. These treatments include:
Plus, new treatments are being developed all the time. Currently, doctors are working on a drug that could stimulate melanocytes into working again, or grow new ones. They’re also developing a drug that could reverse pigment loss. While these haven’t hit the market yet, the future looks bright for vitiligo treatment.
Vitiligo and other skin conditions can be difficult to deal with, both physically and mentally. At Premier Dermatology Partners, our goal is to help you achieve the skin you want and appreciate the skin you have through proper skincare education, advice, and treatment. To learn more about our team and all the services we provide, contact us.