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The individual affected with vitiligo are at higher risk of developing:

  • Eye problems (iris inflammation).
  • Skin cancer.
  • Psychological distress.
  • Sunburn.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is the most common dermatological disorder, in which hypo-pigmented, white patches or macules appear on the skin (skin loses its natural color). This condition affects 2% of the total population of the world.

The white patches (spots) occur due to the following reasons:

1) Acquired autoimmune destruction of melanocytes is one of the reasons. It mostly occurs in the areas where there is greater pigmentation such as face and hands (mostly exposed to sunlight). As a result of the destruction of melanocytes, there is no melanin production and the skin color becomes lighter (white).

2) The other reasons are genetics, sunburn, stress, and exposure to certain harmful industrial chemicals.

This undesirable skin condition mainly results in a significant negative psychological effect and makes the affected individual embarrassed and ashamed of their appearance. It has been observed that a large number of patients of vitiligo are also dealing with depression.

Vitiligo is not contagious and does not spread by direct contact, but it is a lifelong health condition.

Types of vitiligo:

1) Non-segmental vitiligo 
In this type of vitiligo the patches are spread all over the body and are present in the body in a symmetrical pattern. It is the most common type of vitiligo and can be further categorised into the following types basis the area where depigmentation occurs:

1.1 Generalized: Appears in the form of symmetrical patches on both sides of the body.

1.2 Universal: This is a very rare form of vitiligo which covers up to 80% of the body.

1.3 Focal: Again a rare type of vitiligo in which only a single patch or a few patches appear on the body. In some cases, it can be an early form of generalized vitiligo. It is easier to treat focal vitiligo than generalized vitiligo. It often occurs in young children.

1.4 Acrofacial: Affects the fingers or toes.

1.5 Mucosal: Affects the area around mucous membranes and lips.

2) Segmental vitiligo
In this type the patches are present on one side of the body, and it is the least common type. It occurs at an early age and expands for a few years.

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The candidates affected by vitiligo must take the following precautions:

  • 1The main goal is to protect the depigmented skin from sunburn, so sunscreen with SPF 30 or more must be applied.
  • 2Avoid scrubbing or itching the patches as any kind of trauma can spread the patches further.
  • 3Intake of a balanced diet is required to minimize the oxidative stress.
  • 4Other stress busting activities such as exercising, yoga and mediation will also be beneficial.

Vitiligo signs and symptoms:

  • Premature whitening and graying of the hair present on the eyelashes, beard, and hair.
  • Loss of skin color in patches.

There is no complete cure for such skin disorder, but some specific treatments can help to improve this skin condition. A dermatologist or a vitiligo specialist will advise a suitable treatment as different types of vitiligo require different treatments. The diagnosis is made with the use of a special lamp to shine ultraviolet light onto the skin to determine vitiligo.

Combinations of treatments can also help the skin to return to its color that has been lightened because of vitiligo.

The treatment measures include:

1) Medications and creams
Certain topical and corticosteroid creams can help the affected skin color to return. The topical treatment is effective, easy to use, and improves the appearance of discoloration. This treatment method is preferred for a small discolored area.

2) Narrowband-UVB light
It is also known as phototherapy, and it is an efficient method in vitiligo treatment. It is a gold standard treatment for generalised vitiligo in both adults and children. This can be safely used for pregnant ladies or lactating mothers. The treatment takes 12 months to show results and sessions are performed twice or thrice a week.

3) Excimer Laser
This is quite effective in treating facial vitiligo. Within the first 4 weeks a dermatologist can suggest whether it’s working for the patient or not. Generally, up to 65% of improvement can be seen within 12-14 months of the treatment.

4) Surgery

  • Grafting: The depigmented skin is replaced with new skin that can produce the pigment. This treatment helps treat small white patches. Blister grading is also a useful technique that uses a suction process over the discolored skin.
  • Tattooing: It is done using a special surgical instrument, and is usually performed around the lip area and in people who are having darker pigmentation.
  • Drugs: The melanocytes producing drugs are implanted under the skin to promote the growth of melanocytes. Various other drugs are applied in the form of a gel to treat localized vitiligo.

Frequently Asked Questions

Vitiligo is a skin disorder in which the melanocytes cells that give color to the skin get destroyed or damaged. Melanocytes are responsible for producing melanin in the skin, which is a pigment that gives color to skin and hair. As melanocytes get damaged, so there is no melanin production in the skin resulting in the development of white patches on the skin. The vitiligo skin tissue is photosensitive, and the person who is affected by this condition, their skin becomes more sensitive to sunlight and is more prone to get damaged by the UV rays.

The primary and only symptom of vitiligo is the appearance of white patches on the skin. These patches can be smaller or larger depending upon the following patterns:

1. Segmental or focal vitiligo: In this condition, small white spots appear in one or a few areas of the body.

2. Non-segmental or generalized vitiligo: In these conditions, white patches appear on both sides of the body. It usually starts and stops several times throughout a person's lifetime.

The other symptoms of vitiligo include:

  • Loss of color of the eyeball.
  • Loss of color in the tissues that are present inside the mouth and nose..
  • Premature graying or whitening of the hair on eyelashes, eyebrows, scalp or beard

Researchers are still trying to find the exact cause of vitiligo, but it is supposed that it is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system of the body starts attacking the healthy melanocytes of the body resulting in the appearance of white patches on the skin. Various other factors like stress, pollution, UV rays, anxiety, genes, thyroid disease, are also considered as the causative factor for vitiligo.

Though there is no complete cure of vitiligo, still there are ways to manage its symptoms that include:

  • Apply sunscreen and wear full clothing before going outside as protecting the skin will help in preventing the skin from harmful sun rays that can make the conditions worse.
  • An individual suffering from vitiligo should pay special attention to their nutritional needs as it is an autoimmune disorder, so the immune system is benefited by the food that contains phytochemicals and antioxidants such as leafy greens, banana, apples, figs, and dates.
  • An individual having vitiligo should avoid consuming alcohol and smoking, as these products can worsen the vitiligo condition.
  • Consulting a dermatologist is a must before trying any home remedies.

Depending upon the severity of vitiligo, the dermatologist will suggest medications and other treatments to manage the symptoms of the condition. Dr. Rohit Batra, the best skin doctor, provides different treatments for vitiligo:

Medications and creams: Certain topical creams can help the affected skin to get its normal color and help to improve the appearance of discoloration.

Narrowband-UVB light: This is a phototherapy treatment that can be done in both adults and children to treat vitiligo condition.

Excimer Laser: This is an advanced technique to treat facial vitiligo, which gives approx 65% improvement within 12-14 months of the treatment.

Surgery: Grafting is also an effective way to restore the lost pigmentation in the white patches of the skin.

Yes, in 90% of the cases, vitiligo is considered as a hereditary disease. There is a probability that if parents have vitiligo, there are more possibilities to pass this condition to children through genes.

Though vitiligo can start at any age, it is more seen in persons in the age group of 20 and 30. In the initial phase, white patches begin on the face, then above the neck, on the eyes, elbows, hands, and then spreads to other parts of the body. Initially, these symptoms appear on one side of the body, but after some time, it starts spreading on different parts of the body.


Dr. Rohit Batra, an MD (Dermatology,
Venereology & Leprology), is an adult,
pediatric and cosmetic dermatologist
& dermato-surgeon based at New Delhi.


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