Vitiligo is a medical condition that causes the skin to lose color. Some people develop a few spots that may lighten or turn completely white. Others can have widespread loss of skin color.
Vitiligo can develop on any part of the body but commonly begins on hands, forearms, feet, or face. It can also affect the mucous membranes (such as the tissue inside the mouth and nose) and the eye. Frequently this disease is progressive. There is no way to predict how much color a person will lose.
Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin (the main pigment in the skin) are destroyed by the person’s own immune system, causing slowly enlarging white patches of irregular shapes to appear on your skin.
Vitiligo affects all ethnic groups, but may be more noticeable and disfiguring in people with darker skin. These changes in your skin can result in stress and worries about your appearance.
There is no cure for vitiligo. The goal of treatment is to stop or slow the progression of pigment loss and attempt to restore normal pigmentation to your skin.
Who gets vitiligo?
Vitiligo affects 1-2% of the world’s population. In the United States alone, 2 to 5 million people have this disorder.
Vitiligo affects both genders and all ethnic groups.
Ninety-five percent of people who have vitiligo develop it before their 40th birthday.
30% of people with vitiligo have a family history of the disorder.
Vitiligo may be associated with other autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and others.
What causes vitiligo?
Although the cause is not known, one theory is that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease. These diseases happen when your immune system mistakenly attacks some part of your own body. In vitiligo, the immune system may destroy the melanocytes in the skin.
Genetics play a role as the tendency to get vitiligo is increased in people who have a family history of vitiligo.
What does vitiligo look like?
White patches on the skin are the main sign of vitiligo. These patches are more common in areas where the skin is exposed to the sun. The patches may be on the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips. Other common areas for white patches are:
Around and inside the mouth
Armpits and groin
How is vitiligo diagnosed?
Thorough family and medical history
Physical examination, including the use of a Wood’s lamp, which helps distinguish areas of vitiligo by use of ultraviolet light.
A skin biopsy, if necessary
An eye exam
Treatments for vitiligo offered at Summit Medical Group
Skin color occasionally returns without treatment. Other people lose all of their pigment, causing the skin to become a white color. Most cases of vitiligo fall between these two extremes and can be successfully treated.
The goal of treatment is to create a uniform skin tone by restoring color (repigmentation). In rare cases where restoring color to the skin is impossible, the other option is eliminating the remaining color (depigmentation).
The type of treatment selected depends on the type of vitiligo, severity, as well as the patient's preference, health, and age.
Medical treatments include:
Creams and ointments Medications that are applied to the skin such as topical corticosteroids, tacrolimus, and calcipotriol can be used to repigment small areas. To achieve faster results, combinations of topical treatments are used.
Narrow Band Ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) This therapy uses light to repigment the skin. NB-UVB requires two to three treatment sessions per week for several months.
Standard phototherapy units in the doctor’s office is used
This type of therapy is best for large areas of involvement
Another source of NB-UVB is excimer lasers. These lasers tend to produce the best results on the face. This therapy works well for smaller areas.
PUVA This therapy uses Ultraviolet A (UVA) light and a medication called psoralen to repigment the skin. The psoralen may be applied to the skin or taken as a pill. Psoralen makes the skin very sensitive to light. This treatment is effective in returning color to the skin on the face, trunk, upper arms, and upper legs.
Depigmentation Removing the color from other areas so they match the white patches. This treatment is used to extensive vitiligo, which is resistant to other forms of treatment. A chemical called monobenzone is used to remove pigment. This treatment is considered permanent.
Surgical treatments include:
Skin grafts from a person's own tissues. Skin can be taken from one area of a patient's body and transplanted to another area. This is sometimes used for people with small patches of vitiligo.
Tattooing small areas of skin.
Other treatments include:
Cosmetics, such as makeup or dye, to cover the white patches
Counseling and support
Summit Medical Group is proud to provide medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology services to women and men in the Tri-State Area, New York and New Jersey, including the following counties and cities: Essex County, Morris County, Bergen County, Union County, Passaic County, Somerset County and Sussex County, NJ - Livingston, Millburn, Short Hills, West Orange, Berkley Heights, Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Cedar Knolls, Chatham, East Hanover, Englewood Cliffs, Essex Fells, Fair Lawn, Florham Park, Fort Lee, Glen Ridge, Jersey City, Kinnelon, Madison, Maplewood, Mendham, Montclair, Montvale, Morristown, New Providence, North Caldwell, Parsippany, Randolph, Roseland, South Orange, Springfield, Summit, Union, Verona, West Caldwell, Whippany and Westfield, NJ.
Disclaimer: The information on this Web site is solely for to educate patients. It is not intended to be medical advice and, therefore, should not be considered a substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional. Communications to or from the Summit Medical Group Web site and any person will not be used to establish a relationship between a patient and doctor.