What is Vitiligo?

A medical condition called vitiligo affects the skin. If you have this pigmentation disorder, the cells that create pigments (called melanocytes) are destroyed; they are either unable to function properly or they die. This results in depigmentation, or white patches that can appear on different parts of your body. These patches can even appear on the retina of your eyeball, or affect the tissues lining the inside of your nose or mouth (known as mucous membranes). Doctors are not sure exactly what causes vitiligo, but research points to possible causes such as genetic, viral, autoimmune, neural or oxidative stress.

Signs & Symptoms

The most obvious sign of vitiligo are patches of skin that lack pigmentation. These usually appear on the extremities and although the patches may start off being small in size, they may change shape or grow larger. Skin lesions can appear on various parts of the body, with the most common being the wrists, hands and face. However, most of the depigmentation normally occurs in the surrounding orifices of the body such as the genitals, belly button, eyes, nostrils, and mouth. In addition, the hair growing in affected areas may turn white. The physical symptoms of vitiligo may cause mood disorders or depression in affected individuals.

Possible Treatment Options

If you suffer from the skin condition called vitiligo, there are many possible treatment options. Make sure to talk to your doctor to find the one that is right for your particular case. One option is to transplant melanocytes from the gluteal area to the areas affected by vitiligo. Other options are PUVA phototherapy or UVB phototherapy. The former stands for Psoralen and ultraviolet A light and it works by taking a drug to enhance the sensitivity of your skin to ultraviolet light. UVB phototherapy is one of the most common treatments, and it involves exposing your skin to UVB light emitted by UVB lamps.

Certain creams, including Elidel and Protopic, may be effective for repigmentation. Corticosteroid cream may also be applied to affected areas. If you suffer from an extreme case, one possible option is to take topical drugs such as mequinol, hydroquinone or monobenzone to even out the color of your skin. However, if you choose this treatment option, it will be necessary to be very careful around the sun for the rest of your life or you may suffer melanomas or extreme sunburns.

If you have a mild case of vitiligo, it may be possible to camouflage the patches of skin by using makeup or advanced cosmetic camouflage creams. If you have pale skin, avoiding sunlight and tanning unaffected areas may render the patches less visible.