Vitiligo, pronounced as /vi-ti-li-go/, is a skin condition where pale patches appear on the skin due to loss of pigments. These pale patches are actually discoloration of the skin that occurs due to lack of or cease in the production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a skin pigment found in humans and animals which is responsible for giving skin color. While people with all skin types can suffer from this skin condition, it is most clearly visible on people with darker skin as the pale patches mark a stark difference from the remainder of the darker skin tone. Vitiligo is a heredity disease that may pass on to you if anyone in your family has a history of having it.
There are various categorizations of the Vitiligo types; Dr. Israel Figa discusses its five main types.
The most common type of Vitiligo is the generalized type and is also known as the bilateral or non-segmental vitiligo. Around 9 in 10 people with Vitiligo suffer from generalized Vitiligo. The macules, which are the discolored skin, appear on different parts of the body. They progress symmetrically in that they appear at the same place on both sides of the body. For instance, they may appear simultaneously on the backs of your hands, feet, elbows, etc.
This is a less common type of this skin condition and is more common in children, unlike the generalized vitiligo which is more common in adults. In segmental vitiligo, white patches appear on only one side of the body or area such as hand or leg.
Mucosal Vitiligo causes loss of color in the membranes of the mouth while the focal type is found rarely where tiny spots around the face in a certain pattern are formed but do not increase in size. They are often found to disappear within a two to three years’ time span.
Trichrome refers to the almost shaded appearance of the Vitiligo patch. When you see that the patch is surrounded by fading brown skin and is stark white in the center, then it is the trichrome patch.
This is the rarest form of vitiligo, even rarer than focal, where around more than 80% of the body lacks skin pigment.
Israel Figa explains that Vitiligo, in its initial stages, appears as slight discoloration of the skin that slowly pales till it is stark white. The patch may have some pigmentation around its edges but it is mainly bright white from the center. The presence of blood vessels under the skin of the patch may make it appear to be slightly pink or red.
Vitiligo patches start out as small and eventually expand into bigger-sized patches that cover large areas of the body. The shape of a Vitiligo patch is different for everyone as there is no specific shape unique to it. You will find that the edges of the patch to be either smooth and defined or rough and fading. You may also observe areas of brown discoloration, which is known as hyperpigmentation. This skin condition can also affect the hair color of the hair on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or facial hair. Furthermore, it may also cause you to lose color in the tissues inside your mouth and nose.
Vitiligo is not a skin condition that can cause you physical discomfort, however, it may play a huge role in your comfortability with your skin, your self-esteem, and confidence as strangers might stare and ask uncomfortable questions regarding them. This may cause anxiety or depression, in that case, seek professional help or confide in your close family and friends. Dr. Figa says that Vitiligo is nothing to be ashamed of. Nowadays, you will find many brands that run body-positivity movements have people with obvious Vitiligo as their main models.
Since the patches lack melanocytes, the skin is more sensitive to sunlight and burns. It is important to layer the Vitiligo patches with a layer of strong sunblock cream to avoid hurting the affected areas, especially if it is in an exposed place like the face, hands, or feet.
You can choose to undergo treatments and take medicated steroids that increase the melanin production in your skin. No known drugs can stop the process of vitiligo, however, paired with the right therapy, the rate of melanin reduction can be reduced, for instance combining psoralen, a plant-derived substance, with photochemotherapy.
Dermatologists can offer various therapies such as light therapy where Ultra Violet B is used to stop or slow down the progression of active Vitiligo. Surgery is also an option to rude the appearance of Vitiligo. However, Dr. Israel Figa says that if you are affected by this condition, you should not worry about getting rid of it completely as it may cause scars and burn marks on your skin.
You can refer to your dermatologist to find out which foods slow down the melanin production rate and avoid them and vise versa which foods boost the production and include them into your diet.
While Vitiligo is not caused by anything, certain factors may trigger the condition to expand at a faster rate than usual. These factors include long exposures to stressful environments, be it at a workplace or home, skin damage, such as sunburns, and exposure to harsh chemicals.
Vitiligo is a non-contagious skin condition that causes white patches to appear on your skin due to a lack of melanin production. There are no guaranteed cures for this skin condition so it is a good thing that it does not cause any physical irritations like inflammation, itching, etc. You just have to make sure to apply sunscreen to the affected areas whenever you go out to avoid burns and flaking of skin.
You should look for support in groups or with other people with this condition if you are dealing with confidence and self-esteem issues because of it.