The change in colour of your skin is based on various factors. You might see umpteen number of people on a everyday basis. All of them or most of them have a different skin colour or pigmentation. Some might match your skin colour as well where on the other hand, some might have dark skin or fair skin. That depends on pigment called melanin. It is something you have no control of.
But you might have also seen people who have a particular colour of skin but there are patches of lighter or darker on it. This most people find odd or weird but this is a skin condition. Vitiligo is skin condition which cause loss of skin colour in patches.
What is Vitiligo?
The condition of vitiligo causes the loss of skin colour in patches. However, the rate of loss of skin colour or event the extent of it cannot be predicted. The disease of vitiligo can affect any part of the skin however it might also affect your hair and inside your mouth.
You all know that your skin colour is due to the substance called melanin. But how does vitiligo happen? The disease of vitiligo occurs when the cells which produce the melanin, stops functioning or die. When it comes to who can get affected by vitiligo, the answer would be anyone and everyone. Any kind of skin type or people with any skin colour can get affected by this condition however, research shows that vitiligo affects people with darker skin more than people with a lighter skin colour.
The condition of vitiligo is not contagious, neither is it life threatening in any way, however, this condition can cause severe loss of self esteem as people might look at you differently and it can affect your social life as well.
What are the causes of Vitiligo?
The primary cause of vitiligo as mentioned before is when the melanin producing cells die or stop functioning. Melanin is responsible for giving the colour of your eyes, skin and hair as well. When the melanin producing cells die or don’t function, the patch of skin in that particular area becomes lighter of completely white in colour. The exact cause of why the cells die is not known but there have been multiple theories postulated, where the dying of cells can be related to:
- Family history
- A kind of immune disorder which attacks the skin cells in your body
- Any kind of event which can trigger an attack to the skin cells such as a sunburn, stress or exposure to any kind of harmful industrial chemicals.
However, there are a number of complications in the health and mind which vitiligo causes in a person. Some of those complications are:
- Vitiligo causes psychological and social distress
- Increase in sunburns can be what vitiligo causes
- Vitiligo causes eye problems as well along with loss of hearing.
Can Stress Cause Vitiligo?
Yes. In today’s world, stress is taken for everything from the smallest of the issues and the largest of issues as well. There have been cases where too much stress often can trigger vitiligo.
Does Diet have a role to play for vitiligo?
Many of you might have heard about the vitiligo diet. Given the role of oxidative stress in vitiligo, food contaminants/additives and preservatives could aggravate vitiligo because they produce oxidative stress in the skin. But if you want to prevent vitiligo, there are certain foods which have been postulated to trigger vitiligo.
Foods which could aggravate vitiligo
Mango, cashew, pistaschio, oak, cassava, areca nut, red chillies, cherry, raspberry, cranberry, blackberry and tea, vegetable oils.Foods which could play effective role in treatment of vitiligo
Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, onion and apple, Crimini mushrooms and whey proteins.
Is Vitiligo curable or not?
Vitiligo is not exactly curable. Treatments are given to restore the skin tone of affected skin but the outcome of those treatments are unpredictable and recurrence is commonly seen.
Is Vitiligo Hereditary?
Since skin pigmentation and colour is mainly derived from the genes of your parents, the condition also has a hereditary origin. If your parents or even one of them have this condition, the chance of you getting vitiligo increases to a great extent. However, the hereditary aspect to vitiligo is just a portion when it comes to the causes of vitiligo. Mainly, the disease or condition of vitiligo is affected due to an autoimmune disorder or even any kind of exposure of your skin to harmful chemicals. There have been cases and studies where doctors have often concluded that the disease might skip a generation. Skin colour, hair, eye colour are the primary genetic traits in a person, so genes play an important role in being the cause of vitiligo among family members.
Is vitiligo contagious?
Vitiligo is not at all contagious. It is caused due to autoimmune etiology Apart from the genetic influence and autoimmune etiology, exposure to environmental risk factors also cause it but the disease does not spread through contact or through any other medium.
How does vitiligo present on the skin?
The cells which give your skin its pigmentation, called melanocytes, no longer produce the skin pigment, melanin. Once these cells no longer produce melanin, various areas of your skin will lose color or turn white where the melanocytes are dead. It will showcase itself in patches of white or light skin on your natural skin tone. A few areas of lost pigment can develop anywhere on your body, including:
- Hands, feet, arms, and face
- Inside your mouth or other mucus membrane
- Behind the eye
- Hair on the white patch also turns white
When do you go and see a doctor?
Since the condition of vitiligo does not pose any kind of harm to your body neither does it spread to anyone else by contact, the major impact that vitiligo does is to your external image, self esteem and self confidence as well.
People with vitiligo often go through difficult times when it comes to social acceptability. Some people, like immediate friends and family are accepting and understanding but people you see and meet everyday might be judgemental or make fun of your appearance and that can take a serious toll on you, psychologically.
When it is effecting your quality of life?
When you know and realise that the people in your life look at you differently and that ultimately affects your self esteem and self confidence to a great extent, that is when this disease affects quality of life. The condition does not affect your health as such to any extent, but it does affect how you look and feel about yourself when you meet other people, specially if they consider you ‘different’.
How is vitiligo treated?
When it comes to the treatment of vitiligo, it is essential that you consult a reputed doctor and surgeon to make sure that the right kind of treatment is decided to minimise side effects and gives results as well.
Most treatments for vitiligo are done to restore the colour of your skin, however the results of these treatments are unpredictable and the outcomes or the guarantee is rare. Many side effects are seen when the treatments are done. And even if the results are desirable without too many complications, there is no guarantee that the condition is completely gone. Patches of skin can develop again at any time.
There is no gold standard drug yet which can stop the process of vitiligo, but there are a few drugs if mixed with some kinds of therapy can actually get back your skin tone and stop the autoimmune process.
Combining psoralen and light therapy: This particular treatment or therapy combines a substance called psoralen which is derived from plants with light therapy (photochemotherapy) to return color to the patches with a lighter skin tone. The process starts after you take psoralen orally or apply it to the affected areas of the skin, once you do that, you’re exposed to ultraviolet A (UVA), UVB light or excimer light. This therapy yields better results than just medication or just light. You might need to repeat treatments three times a week for six to 12 months depending on the extent of the vitiligo and the areas which have been affected.
Removing the remaining color or De-pigmentation: This particular therapy might be an option if your vitiligo is widespread to many parts of the body and any other treatment haven’t worked at all. A depigmenting agent is applied to areas of the skin which are unaffected. This pigment gradually lightens the skin so that it blends with the areas which are discoloured. The therapy is usually done once or twice a day for nine months or longer.
However this method has its share of side effects which might include redness, swelling, itching and dry skin. Depigmentation is permanent, and at the end of the procedure you will permanently be extremely sensitive to sunlight.
If any kind of therapy does not work out for treating the condition of vitiligo, then surgery comes into play. But in many cases, surgeons also perform surgeries along with the therapies. but there are limitations for surgical methods. You should consult with an experienced and efficient surgeon so that the chances of complications are less and the results are good to whatever extent can be done. The surgeries are mainly done to even the skin tone by restoring the colour of the skin. If in case, you do not have a surgeon in mind, visit us or book an appointment with Ambrosia Clinics and our dermatologists and surgeons will do their best in helping you with the vitiligo.
Some of the surgeries which are done to treat vitiligo are:
Skin grafting: In the procedure of skin grafting, your surgeon removes very small parts of your normal, pigmented skin and then attaches them to areas which have lost its pigment. This procedure is usually used if the patches of vitiligo in your skin are small. However this surgery has a few possible risks which include infection, scarring, spotty color and failure of the area to recolour.
Blister grafting: The procedure of blister grafting the doctor creates blisters on your pigmented skin, usually with the help of suction. The surgeon then removes the tops of the blisters and then transplants them to an area of discolored skin.
Possible risks include scarring and failure of the area to recolor. Apart from this, the skin damage caused by suctioning may trigger another patch of vitiligo.
Micropigmentation: In this technique of surgery, the doctor uses a special instrument to implant a pigment into your skin. It’s most effective when given in and around the lips in people who have darker complexions.
The drawbacks of this procedure include difficulty matching the skin color and tattooing can also trigger another patch of vitiligo.
What are the complications of Vitiligo?
Coming to the complications of vitiligo, there are quite a few even though this condition does not harm the body in anyway and also is not communicable as a disease. However, the complications of vitiligo are:
- Exposure to sunlight: Having vitiligo, you need to make sure you are not exposed to the sun to a great extent as you can experience a sunburn.
- Self image and self esteem: As mentioned before, having vitiligo, you can see some raised eyebrows and frowns which can come across as judgements thinking you might be ‘different’.
- Autoimmune disorders: Apart from genetics and environment, vitiligo can also be caused due to an autoimmune disorder. Vitiligo, possibly being an autoimmune disorder can be associated with various other autoimmune disorders such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, diabetes and anemia.
Having vitiligo, does not always help your quality of life. Even if you have brought yourself to accept that you have this condition, and your family and friends as well, it is not possible for you to make sure everyone is okay with you having the condition. There will always be people who might give you the ‘you are different’ look or give an expression of discomfort. If you think, that you are not able to live like that anymore, visit us or book an appointment with us at Ambrosia Clinics and we will do our best to make your skin better again.
[Also Read: TYPES OF SKIN DISORDERS AND ITS TREATMENTS]
About the Doctor:
Dr. Theertha Lenin, BHMS, FMC is a Medical Cosmetologist, Aesthetician and Tattoo artist. Her passion towards aesthetic medicine made her start practice at very young age. She has been a part of several organisations at various locations in India; and is one of the best cosmetologists among her peers. She has passion and skill in non–surgical cosmetic procedures like Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy, Dermaroller, Stem Cell Therapy, Anti–Ageing Treatment, Chemical Peels, Laser Therapy, Mesotherapy. She does preliminary counseling and looks after patients before and after major surgeries too.