Vitiligo is a skin condition where pale patches develop due to loss of pigment from areas of your skin. It most commonly appears on your face, neck and hands due to sun exposure. Sometimes vitiligo can develop on your hair root (scalp or eyelids), causing a lack of melanin in your skin which can turn your hair white or grey. Men and women are equally affected, and this condition is most noticeable on darker skin. It can develop at any age, however it's more common to begin before the age of 20. There is no way of predicting whether you'll be affected with small patches or bigger white patches that spread over large areas of skin.
Vitiligo: What do I have to do to prepare?
Vitiligo is easily identified by it's appearance so you won't usually need to be tested.
Vitiligo: What's the treatment like?
Vitiligo is usually a permanent condition with no known cure, but there are some treatment options that aim to improve the appearance:
Sun protection: Due to the lack of melanin produced in vitiligo sufferers sunburn is a real risk, so it's important that you make sure you wear a high factor of sun cream on skin exposed to the sun. This will minimise tanning and therefore make your vitiligo less noticeable.
Skin camouflage cream: Coloured creams that match your natural skin colour are available to cover the lighter patches on your skin, in order to blend them in to make them unnoticeable. They can last up to four days on your body and up to 18 hours on your face.
Phototherapy: This treatment has been shown to have positive effects on vitiligo. During the treatment your skin is exposed to UVA/UVB light from a special lamp, after you have taken a medicine called psoralen, which makes your skin more sensitive to light.
Skin graft: In a surgical procedure skin from an unaffected area of the body is removed and used to cover the area of skin affected by vitiligo. This procedure is only performed if your condition hasn't worsened in the 12 months prior, and is not considered for children.
Depigmentation: Is recommended for adults who have vitiligo on more than 50% of their body. A lotion is painted onto the normal skin to bleach away the pigment to make it match the paler patches. You'll find this treatment isn't widely available.
Tattooing (micropigmentation): Implant pigments can be tattooed into your skin with a surgical instrument. It's most effective around the lips and on people with dark skin.
Vitiligo: What about after?
Downtime is entirely down to which treatment route you take. One thing for sure though is that you will need to make sure you protect exposed skin from the sun.
Vitiligo: Any there any risks or side effects?
You have to bear in mind that treatment for vitiligo is not always successful and if you do experience an improvement, it won't always last as it's quite likely the patches will come back.
The effects of phototherapy can include: skin damage, skin redness, dry skin, itching and an increased risk of skin cancer. Even though there is no conclusive evidence to suggest an increased risk of skin cancer from UVB treatments, care should still be taken with the amount of treatments you have in the long run.
Skin grafting can result in scarring.
Skin depigmentation can irritate your skin, making it red and swollen. You will find that you are a lot more sensitive to light after the treatment as well.
Sometimes the tattoo colour doesn't match you skin colour and you have to remember that tattoo colour does fade in time and that they don't tan.