How Does Vitiligo Develop?


What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a long-term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment. It can affect the skin on any part of your body as well as the inside of your mouth, in your hair, on your scalp, in your eyelashes, or your eyebrows.

People of any skin tone can have vitiligo, however if you have darker skin, it’s more noticeable since the contrast between your normal skin tone and your patches of vitiligo is greater.

What Causes Vitiligo?

Your skin, hair, and eyes get their color from cells called melanocytes that produce the pigment melanin. If you have vitiligo, your melanocytes stop producing melanin, making patches of your skin lighter or white.

Your immune system is thought to play a role in developing vitiligo, with genetics and environmental factors triggering your immune system’s response. People with certain genes, as well as those who have family members with vitiligo, are believed to be at an increased risk of having it as well.

How is Vitiligo Diagnosed?

A dermatologist will examine your skin and consider your medical history. If you have fairer skin, he or she may also use an ultraviolet lamp to check for pigment loss and to be able to tell the difference between vitiligo and other skin conditions.

You may also need a skin biopsy to look for the presence of melanocytes in your skin since an absence of them can indicate vitiligo. A blood test can be used to determine whether you have an autoimmune disease or other medical issues that often accompany vitiligo, such as thyroid problems, diabetes, or anemia.

How is Vitiligo Treated?

While there’s no cure for vitiligo, it can be treated. Your dermatologist can recommend one or more types of treatment based on how severe your condition is, the size and location of your patches, how many you have, and how widespread they are.

Treatments may include the following:

  • Cosmetics– Makeup or self-tanners can help cover up white patches.
  • Topical creams– Prescription creams such as corticosteroids can help return color to white patches or help slow their growth.
  • Oral medications– Prescription medications like steroids and certain antibiotics can be used to treat vitiligo.
  • Light therapy– A plant-derived substance called psoralen can be taken by mouth or applied to your skin, after which you’re exposed to UVA, UVB, or excimer light.
  • Depigmenting agent – This can be used with widespread vitiligo that hasn’t responded to other treatments. It’s applied to unaffected areas of the skin once or twice a day for about 9 months to eventually lighten it to match the areas affected by vitiligo. However, it can cause side effects.
  • Surgery– Surgical options include skin grafting (using small sections of your pigmented skin to attach to affected areas) and tattooing (implanting pigment into your skin).

If you believe you have vitiligo and are looking for treatment options, contact Greater Miami Skin & Laser Center for an initial consultation. Our dermatologists will thoroughly examine your skin and suggest the best treatment options for your needs.

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