vitiligo

There are many conditions we see in dermatology that can affect the pigment of the skin. Vitiligo is among the most common of them. 

Here to answer some of the most common questions about this skin condition is Lauren Collins.

About Laura Collins, APRN DCNP

Laura received her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Northern Illinois University (NIU) in 2000. She completed the Nurse Practitioner Program and earned her Master’s Degree from NIU in December of 2004. She is board certified as an Adult Nurse Practitioner and is also a Dermatology Certified Nurse Practitioner by the Dermatology Nurses Association.

Ms. Collins is a member of the Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nurses, the Dermatology Nurses Association Nurse Practitioner Society, and the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants. She has practiced in the field of dermatology for over twelve years.

Her medical interests include general dermatology, skin cancer screening and prevention, patient education, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Ms. Collins believes in providing comprehensive patient care and strives to give friendly and courteous service. She enjoys helping patients understand their condition and educating them on the best possible treatment options.

What is vitiligo? 

Vitiligo is an acquired anomaly of the skin characterized by loss of color resulting in white appearing patches that can either be localized to certain areas or scattered over the entire body. 

Rarely, the condition can affect larger, more generalized areas. 

what is vitiligo

What causes vitiligo?

The white, or depigmented, patches are a result of the destruction of the melanocytes, the pigment producing cells of the skin. The affected areas tend to be symmetrical on both sides of the body. 

For example, both of a person’s knees or hands may be affected at the same time. If a hair-bearing area is affected, the hair will also lose pigment, turning it white.

How common is vitiligo?

Vitiligo occurs in approximately one percent of the population with most cases beginning before the age of twenty. 

The incidence is equal for both male and female patients, with thirty percent of patients report a family history of the condition. Vitiligo is often thought to even be autoimmune. 

In this scenario, the body’s own immune cells attack the healthy melanocytes by mistake. Many patients notice the onset after a significant skin trauma (such as a sunburn), a major illness, or after an emotionally stressful event. 

Some patients with this disorder may have a history of rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes. If necessary, the diagnosis of this condition can be confirmed with a skin biopsy performed by your dermatologist.

Is vitiligo painful?

Although this skin condition may not cause pain or other physical symptoms, the discoloration that results in an uneven skin tone can be cosmetically devastating for patients, especially for those with darker skin tones. 

Vitiligo is a chronic condition without a cure. Cases may persist for years and may wax and wane. 

Therefore, treatment is aimed at protecting the skin and attempting to slow the progression of the condition as well as to restore the pigmentation. 

How to Treat Vitiligo

Unfortunately, vitiligo is difficult to treat. 

Our available treatment methods include topical steroids and other non-steroidal medications, narrow band ultraviolet B light treatments, either in a full body light box or with a laser, and other experimental treatments.

How to Reduce the Effects of Vitiligo 

Diligent sunscreen use can reduce the appearance of vitiligo. Since the melanocytes are destroyed in the affected areas, the skin is left without protection from ultraviolet radiation. 

We recommend choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ to be re-applied to the affected areas at least every two hours during outdoor activities. Sun protective clothing is also another option to protect the skin. 

We also recommend the use of products such as DermaBlend to conceal or camouflage the affected areas. Sunless or self-tanners may be useful to stain the skin to conceal variation in pigment.

If you would like to research further information on vitiligo, the following websites may be useful: Vitiligo Support International Inc.: https://www.vitiligosupport.org

VitFriends: https://www.vitfriends.org

Vitiligo Research Foundation: https://www.vrfoundation.org

If you think you may have this skin condition, make sure to book an appointment so a qualified dermatologist can help you be sure!