Vitiligo is a permanent skin condition in which patches of skin appear white owing to a lack of melanin, the pigmentation that gives skin, hair, and eyes colour.
Vitiligo affects any area of the skin, but is often found on the face, neck and hands. When an individual has the condition, the pigment cells known as melanocytes are destroyed, resulting in the formation of irregularly shaped white patches on the skin. This typically occurs before the age of 20, and in around 20 per cent of cases, the individual has other family members also living with the condition.
Vitiligo affects around one per cent of the global population, and while it impacts individuals of all races, it is often more noticeable in people with darker skin.
What causes Vitiligo?
While it is known that vitiligo occurs due to a lack of melanin, it is not fully understood what causes this depletion.
The pigmentation of the skin is called melanin, which is created in the body by melanocytes cells. It is widely believed that vitiligo is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s antibodies attack these melanocytes. As they are destroyed, that affected area of skin cannot create pigment, resulting in consequential white patches on skin.
Given that many people who suffer from vitiligo also suffer from other diseases such as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the notion that it is indeed an autominnue condition is supported.
What are the symptoms of Vitiligo?
Vitiligo manifests as white patches on the skin, commonly affecting areas such as:
- The face and neck
- Skin creases
- Fingers and toes
- Armpits and navel
- Groin and genitals
It can also be the case that the condition affects skin that has undergone trauma such as lacerations or burns, including sunburn.
Vitiligo can appear as a single patch or multiple clusters, and these can change shape and expand over time.
Images of Vitiligo
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How is Vitiligo Diagnosed?
A Dermatologist normally makes the diagnosis with clinical examination. In rare cases, a skin biopsy may be recommended.
What Vitiligo treatment is available?
While there is currently no vitiligo cure, some methods of treatment are available.
Topical Vitiligo treatment as prescribed by a dermatologist may provide some relief, but if this is ineffective, the individual may be prescribed phototherapy with ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In some cases, spontaneous repigmentation is possible, although the condition can return to the affected area.
Many people living with the condition choose to cover vitiligo either with clothing or with camouflage makeup, depending on it’s location. Those affected by the condition should also take extra care in the sun, covering up with SPF along with protective hats and clothing.