Vitiligo is a condition in which areas of the skin lose their pigment
or colour and turn white. The condition can occur at any age. However
50% of cases develop before the age of 20. In a third of cases, vitiligo
may run in families (inherited). Although the condition affects people
from all different racial backgrounds, it is more obvious among darker
skinned people. It often affects visible areas of the skin, such as
the face and hands, which can be a source of embarrassment to those
The affected skin shows an absence of pigment cells that make up the
skin colour. What triggers the disappearance of these pigment cells
is not known. Some suggest that the body’s immune system is
misfiring, which causes the destruction of the skin pigment cells.
Eye changes may also accompany vitiligo.
It is unusual for vitiligo to affect the entire body. However the
affected skin does not commonly revert back to its normal colour naturally.
Treatment for vitiligo may not be required in very mild and subtle
cases. Prescription creams such as steroid creams may help to turn
off the immune attack on the pigment cells. The use of Phototherapy
(medical ultraviolet light) can also help to restore pigment cells
in vitiligo affected skin. A dermatologist may also prescribe
a cream or tablet to enhance the effects of phototherapy. In extensive
cases of vitiligo, especially in dark skinned people, total body bleaching
with a medicated cream may help to even out the blotchy skin appearance.
People with vitiligo should stay out of the sun and utilize maximum
sun protection measures, as sun exposure may both worsen the vitiligo
and increase the contrast between normal skin and white vitiligo skin
that does not tan.
Because there are many conditions that look similar to vitiligo,
resulting in white patches of skin, it is important to see your dermatologist
for correct diagnosis and treatment.