Vitiligo is a condition that appears as irregularly shaped patches of white skin surrounded by normal skin. It occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the cells in the skin that produce melanin (melanocytes). One out every 200 Americans has at least a small area of skin affected by this condition. In most cases, the direct cause of vitiligo is not known. In some situations, damage to the skin such as a rash or sunburn may trigger the destruction of melanocytes. Hormone imbalances and certain autoimmune disorders may increase the risk of developing this condition. Vitiligo itself is not a health concern; but it can be considered disfiguring – especially if it affects the face and arms. White patches on skin that is normally darker in complexion can be difficult to conceal with cosmetics. The loss of pigment may stabilize or continue to spread over time. There is no known way to prevent this skin condition from occurring. However, it can be treated to at least partially reverse the depigmentation in affected areas.

Potential Treatments

There are a number of therapies currently approved for vitiligo – and more are being developed. Here are some options to discuss with your dermatologist:

Steroids – These drugs may be prescribed to improve the appearance of skin and partially restore normal pigment. The effects only last as long as you stay on the medication.

Calcineurin Inhibitors – Immunosuppressant drugs such as cyclosporine that prevent the immune system from attacking melanocytes have demonstrated some effectiveness in re-pigmenting skin. These medications and steroids both have many potential side effects.

Laser Therapy – This method of stimulating pigment production is often used for restoring melanin to facial skin. Laser treatment is generally combined with a topical steroid or calcineurin inhibitor. It may provide significantly faster results than medication alone.

UVB Light Therapy – This treatment may be prescribed if you have vitiligo over a large area of your body. You may require treatment several times per week over a period of many months to see significant improvement.

Skin Grafting – Melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation involves taking a small sample of skin cells from a normally pigmented area of the body (usually the thigh) and transferring them into the affected area. This treatment is only recommended if your vitiligo appears to have stopped spreading.

Depigmentation – Patients with dark skin and widespread vitiligo that is resistant to other treatments sometimes opt to have their skin lightened all over with a powerful bleaching agent called Benoquin.

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