Gradual loss of pigmentation in the skin or hair may be a sign of vitiligo. This condition is not typically harmful to your health, but treatment options may be available. Vitiligo causes patches of pigmentation loss which typically grow over time. Patients may see this pigmentation loss on only one side of the body or it may occur symmetrically on either side. Typically, pigmentation loss is the only symptom of vitiligo, though the condition can cause stress or self esteem issues. Vitiligo is more noticeable in those with tan or darker skin tones but may occur in any patient.
Vitiligo is caused by the death or dysfunction of melanocytes, or pigment-producing skin cells. This causes the light patches of skin or hair. The underlying cause of melanocyte death or dysfunction is not entirely clear. However, it is believed to be caused by factors including genetics, immune system disorders or triggering events such as severe skin trauma or burns. Vitiligo often runs in families, meaning that your likelihood of developing vitiligo increases if you have close relatives with the condition.
Vitiligo treatment is not typically necessary for skin health. However, those with vitiligo should take care to prevent sunburn in areas of lost pigmentation by consistently wearing SPF and avoiding excess sun exposure. Vitiligo co-morbidities can include hearing loss or eye health issues. This means that patients with vitiligo may be recommended to see an audiologist or ophthalmologist on a regular basis. Aside from these issues, many patients choose to treat vitiligo for cosmetic reasons. Treatments are available to help create a more even skin tone.
Treatment options for vitiligo may be focused either on restoring pigment, creating an even skin tone by removing remaining pigment or slowing the progression of depigmentation.
First, corticosteroids may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation. This can be helpful in restoring pigmentation at early stages of vitiligo. Similarly, calcineurin inhibitor ointments may be used to slow vitiligo progression by addressing immune system problems.
Laser and light therapy treatments may also be used to treat vitiligo. Phototherapy may be used to stop or slow the progress of the condition. In phototherapy treatments, topical products are typically applied to the skin to increase photosensitivity and stop immune system dysfunction. Laser treatments may either remove remaining pigment or restore lost pigment depending on the technology used.
The best vitiligo treatment for each patient will vary depending on factors like the progression of the condition or the size of the lightened patches. A thorough consultation with a dermatology care provider is necessary to develop the best treatment plan for each patient.