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Vitiligo Causes And Treatment

Medically reviewed by Bari Cunningham, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 13, 2023

According to the Vitiligo Research Foundation, plenty of famous people have the skin condition called vitiligo. They don’t let it get in their way. Many have embraced the condition.


What is vitiligo?


Vitiligo is a skin condition where the cells in your body responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that provides color to your skin, stop producing this substance. This loss of melanin causes your skin to get whiter, sometimes in specific patches, and sometimes even affecting almost your whole body. 


This condition affects only about 1 percent of the population worldwide, and most often begins in people between ages 10 and 30. While no one is quite sure exactly why vitiligo happens, there are some working theories about who it affects. If you have a family member who has vitiligo, you’re more likely to get it. As it’s considered to be an autoimmune disorder, there is more of a chance of vitiligo occurring if you already have an autoimmune disorder of a different type. Occasionally, people have reported experiencing vitiligo after a specific trigger like a stressful event, a very severe sunburn, or some other kind of trauma to your skin. 


Are there treatment options?


Some people may want to work with their skin to see if the melanin can start producing color again. Common ways to try this include light therapy, which exposes your skin to ultraviolet light several times a week, and topical treatments, including topical forms of steroids and vitamin D. These treatments may be used in combination or separately. 


In situations where someone wants to work even further on their skin, more vigorous treatments are available. These include skin grafting (small sections of skin with functioning melanin are transferred to the colorless skin), blister grafting (blisters are created on the skin with functioning melanin and the tops of those blisters are then transferred to the colorless skin), and cellular suspension transplant (tissues from skin with functioning melanin are placed into a solution, and then transplanted to the colorless skin). Results can show up in as early as 4 weeks. Someone with vitiligo may also benefit from working with a counselor, if they feel their condition has affected their mental health. 


Vitiligo is a skin issue that can affect anyone. But treatment options are available for those who wish to take advantage of them. You and your doctor can decide what’s right for you.


Written by Yonah Leserowitz

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