Vitiligo is a condition related to skin pigmentation that’s experienced by about 2% of people worldwide and 2-5 million people in the United States. Though its effects may be more noticeable on darker skin, vitiligo affects people of different backgrounds at about the same rate. At The Dermatology Clinic, we can diagnose vitiligo and recommend treatments to help patients regain confidence in their appearance.

What Is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo causes skin discoloration on different parts of the body, including the face, hands, and arms. These issues occur when the cells that create melanin (melanocytes) either break down or stop functioning properly. Though vitiligo may develop at any age, most people with this condition begin to notice symptoms while in their 20s. Despite its visible effects on the skin, vitiligo is not contagious. However, it isn’t simply a cosmetic issue. People who have vitiligo may develop other problems later in life, including severe sunburns, autoimmune diseases, and hearing loss. If you’ve noticed patches of depigmentation on your body, consult a doctor so that they can determine if vitiligo is the cause.

Vitiligo Symptoms

The main symptom of vitiligo is a loss of the skin’s natural color, usually in patches. Many patients find that the first white spot often appears in an area that receives daily sun exposure or where the skin rubs together frequently. Loss of pigment is not limited to the skin. Sometimes vitiligo causes other parts of the body to lose their color, including hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, genitalia, mucous membranes (such as the inside of the mouth), and the inner parts of the eye.

Causes of Vitiligo

Though the mechanism by which vitiligo occurs is well understood, there is no clearly defined cause. However, there are several potential contributors to vitiligo’s development:

  • – An autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack melanocytes
  • – High levels of sun exposure
  • – Hereditary factors
  • – Issues with the nervous system
  • – High levels of stress

 

Types of Vitiligo

Vitiligo is generally divided into two types:

  • – Non-Segmental Vitiligo: Depigmentation develops on numerous parts of the body with varying degrees of symmetry. This form is significantly more common and occurs in about 90% of vitiligo patients.
  • – Segmental Vitiligo: Depigmentation is concentrated in one area of the body and spreads more slowly than non-segmental vitiligo.

 

There are three ways to describe the amount of vitiligo across the body:

  • – Localized: Depigmentation is minimal and limited to only a few spots.
  • – Generalized: White patches are moderately spread across the body.
  • – Universal: The majority of the skin’s pigmentation has faded. This form of vitiligo is very uncommon.

 

Diagnosis & Treatment

As mentioned earlier, if you’ve noticed multiple spots of depigmented skin on your body, you should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. They will review your medical history, as well as your family’s to see if there is a history of vitiligo. Your medical provider may also use ultraviolet light to test your skin. Other clinical methods of diagnosing vitiligo include skin biopsies, eye exams, and blood tests.

There are currently no permanent cures for vitiligo, but several available treatments can help improve the color and evenness of skin tone. Current methods include topical applications, laser treatments, PUVA light therapy, repigmentation through tattoos, surgery, and drugs that affect the immune system.

Preparing for Your Appointment

Before seeing a dermatologist, protect patches you think may be affected by vitiligo by using sunscreen diligently and keeping your skin covered. Make sure to research the condition and ask your relatives if anyone else in your family has suffered from vitiligo or other skin conditions, such as dermatitis or albinism. At The Dermatology Clinic, our medical staff can diagnose and help treat vitiligo. We have three clinics located across the Baton Rouge area. If you think you may be developing vitiligo or another pigmentation issue, schedule an appointment with us today.