Vitiligo occurs when cells called melanocytes die or stop producing melanin, which is the pigment that gives your skin, eyes and hair color. The affected patches of skin become lighter or turn white. It affects people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious, but it can be stressful and affect your self-esteem.
There is no cure for vitiligo, although treatments can help to manage it, and it is usually a lifelong condition. While the exact cause has not been proven, it is believed to be caused by an autoimmune disorder or a virus, genetics or a trigger event, such as stress, sunburn or exposure to industrial chemicals
Treatment for vitiligo can restore the skin color, but it can’t prevent continued loss of color or a recurrence.
Symptoms vary in severity and can include the following:
- Patchy whitening of skin or loss of skin color
- Premature whitening or graying your hair, eyebrows, eyelashes or beard
- Loss of color from the lining of your mucous membranes in the nose and mouth
- Change or loss of color of your retinas (the thin layer of tissue lining the back of the eye)
When to see a doctor
If you notice that areas of your skin, hair or eyes are losing their coloring, you should see a doctor. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as patches of white skin could be an indication of vitiligo or another skin disease.
It is important to get treatment as soon as possible as people with vitiligo can be at increased risk of sunburn and developing skin cancer, eye problems and hearing loss.
Diagnosis & Treatment
To diagnose vitiligo, our dermatologist will ask you about your medical history, examine you and try to rule out other medical problems, such as dermatitis or psoriasis. Other diagnostic tools include a special UV lamp, and taking a small biopsy of the affected skin, and blood test to rule out conditions such as anaemia and diabetes.
While there is no cure for vitiligo, treatment may help to stop or slow down the discoloring process, and can help return some color to your skin. Treatment options include, cosmetic camouflage, phototherapy with UVB or UVA light depigmentation (reducing the color in the non-affected areas to make the difference less noticeable), topical treatments and medication, to referral for skin grafts or tattooing.
In addition, our dermatologist can create a customized plan to help you avoid painful sunburns.