Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder in which an individual’s immune system begins to recognize and attack the melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the skin. This produces light colored or completely white patches of skin in the affected areas, the most common of which would be the face, arms, hands, feet and genitals. It may be difficult to recognize this depigmentation in a light-skinned individual, but in those with darker skin, the contrast can be quite noticeable. Vitiligo is not life threatening or contagious, but it is often a source of distress for those who are afflicted by the condition.
There is no cure for vitiligo, and while it may be difficult to restore pigment to affected skin, there are several ways in which the condition may be treated. Topical and oral anti-inflammatory medications can target the immune cells responsible for the depigmentation. UVB light therapy and Excimer laser can be effective in re-pigmenting skin over time as well. Often a combination approach has the greatest chance of success. In rare cases, when there is a very large affected area of the body, and especially in light-skinned individuals, complete depigmentation with a topical lightening agent may be the treatment of choice. At any stage of the disease, it is vital to practice strict sun protection as areas of skin without pigment are extremely sensitive to sunburn, sun damage, and the development of skin cancer later in life.
To learn more about vitiligo, or to connect with others who have vitiligo, visit the American Vitiligo Foundation website.