Posted by: Skin and Cancer Institute in Medical Dermatology

Hands with vitiligo on them

Many people have had the experience of finding a white spot on their skin. For most, this is nothing to worry about. However, these white spots can be much more dramatic for people with vitiligo and cover large areas of their skin resulting in patchy, discolored areas. For many people with vitiligo, the condition is more than just a cosmetic issue; it can lead to social isolation and anxiety. That’s why it’s vital to know coping strategies and tips if you or someone you love is affected by this skin condition.

What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a condition where skin pigment is lost, resulting in areas of white patches. While vitiligo can affect any body part, it is most noticeable in areas exposed to the sun. There are two types of vitiligo: segmental and non-segmental.

Segmental vitiligo

This condition usually shows up in childhood or adolescence and affects only one side of the body. It is also known as unilateral or localized vitiligo.

Non-segmental vitiligo

Also known as bilateral or generalized vitiligo, this is more common and can affect any area of the skin. It usually begins early in life and progresses to involve both sides of the body symmetrically, including the following areas:

  • the skin around the eyes
  • backs of hands
  • arms
  • feet
  • elbows
  • knees

The causes of vitiligo

Vitiligo is thought to be the result of an autoimmune reaction. In cases of non-segmental vitiligo, the body’s immune system attacks the melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing pigment. The affected areas of skin then begin to lose their color. For segmental vitiligo, it’s thought that chemicals from nerve endings poison melanocyte skin cells.

Affected areas

Vitiligo can affect any part of the body, including the hair, eyes, and inside of the mouth. Vitiligo can cause hair to turn white or gray. In some cases, vitiligo may also cause changes in the color of the eyes. Vitiligo can affect people of all ages, races, or genders. 

Parts of the body most affected by vitiligo

  • mouth 
  • eyes
  • genitals
  • armpits
  • groin
  • fingers and wrists

How is vitiligo diagnosed?

Vitiligo is usually diagnosed by a physical examination and family medical history. Your dermatologist will look for areas of depigmentation on your skin and may use a Wood’s lamp, or black light, to examine your skin more closely. In some cases, a dermatologist may perform a biopsy to see if pigment cells are present and to rule out other conditions. They may also order blood tests.

The impact of vitiligo on daily life

Vitiligo can be a tough condition to live with. It’s a very visible condition, so people who have it are often stared at and subjected to intrusive personal questions or comments about the appearance of their skin.

Tips for managing vitiligo

Some people with vitiligo opt for cosmetic treatments to camouflage the affected areas of the skin. These include makeup, self-tanning products, and tattooing. Some also undergo surgery to transplant healthy skin cells to the affected area. 

Vitiligo and self-esteem

For many people with vitiligo, the condition can lead to feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. In particular, those with vitiligo in visible areas of their body may feel self-conscious about their appearance. Some may avoid social situations. It’s important to remember that vitiligo does not cause any physical discomfort, so focusing on improving self-esteem and building confidence from within is essential. Vitiligo should not define who you are as a person. Rather, it should be seen as one aspect of your unique identity.

How to deal with vitiligo in children

If you suspect that your child has vitiligo, it is important to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. With proper treatment, most children with vitiligo can lead healthy and active lives.

The latest research on vitiligo

While there is no cure for vitiligo, the latest research has helped to improve treatment options and offer hope to those affected by this condition. The latest research on vitiligo has focused on topical corticosteroids, phototherapy, and surgery.

Treatment options for vitiligo

Topical steroid creams can be used to restore some color to the skin. Phototherapy uses ultraviolet light to stimulate the production of melanin and can be used alone and in combination with other treatments. Surgery, including skin grafting, is typically only recommended for small areas of vitiligo.

See a dermatologist for vitiligo.

If you have vitiligo, you must see a dermatologist for proper treatment. There is no cure for vitiligo, but there are treatments that can help stop the disease’s progression and restore pigment to the skin. A dermatologist can develop a treatment plan that is right for you. So if you have vitiligo, make an appointment with a Skin and Cancer Institute dermatologist today.