Vitiligo

If you notice patches of unpigmented (stark white) skin developing, especially on the hands or face, this may be a sign of vitiligo. Vitiligo is a relatively common condition that results in the loss of pigment. While treatment is not always necessary, a dermatologist like Dr. Damstetter can help you slow the progression of the condition or restore a more even skin tone.

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes a loss of pigment. This causes discolored, lightened patches of skin which can affect virtually any area of the skin or hair. Vitiligo is relatively common and more noticeable in those with tan or darker skin tones, though it can affect patients of any skin tone. There are two primary types of vitiligo: non-segmental, which causes discolored patches on both sides of the body, and segmental, which causes asymmetric and in some cases solitary discolored patches.

What Causes Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is caused when the melanocytes, or pigment-producing skin cells, stop producing melanin (pigment) in response to injury caused by an overactive immune system. While it is unclear why exactly this occurs, the condition is believed to be hereditary as it runs in families. Vitiligo is also more common among those who have autoimmune conditions and can occur after a trigger event that causes damage to the skin, such as a severe burn or trauma.

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Vitiligo Symptoms

The primary symptom of vitiligo is the loss of pigment within the skin causing white patches. These can occur virtually anywhere on the body and most commonly first appear on the hands, face, or genitals. In addition, pigmentation loss from vitiligo can affect the hair or mucous membranes, such as the tissues lining the inside of the mouth or nose. While not typically harmful to your health, vitiligo can also cause an increased risk of sunburn, and in extremely rare cases, is associated with hearing loss or eye problems. Finally, many patients may feel self-conscious of the appearance of the white patches.

Your Expert

Liz Damstetter, MD

Board-Certified Dermatologist

Vitiligo Treatment Options

Not all patients with vitiligo will require treatment, as the condition is not typically harmful to your health. However, you can choose to undergo various treatment options to restore a more even skin tone if you are unhappy with the appearance of your vitiligo.

In the early stages, topical corticosteroids and calcineurin inhibitors can restore pigment for some patients. This works by reducing inflammation and subsequent damage to the skin cells. Occasionally oral steroids are given in brief doses to minimize widespread inflammation.

Because vitiligo is associated with autoimmune disorders, some patients also benefit from medications compounded by Dr. Damstetter that include a class of medications known as JAK inhibitors.

Light therapy can also be beneficial in slowing the progression of vitiligo. This is often performed in combination with topical corticosteroids, calcineurin inhibitors, or JAK inhibitors.

If vitiligo is widespread, then chemical depigmentation, or removing the remaining pigmentation, is also an option. This involves applying a depigmenting agent to the unaffected areas of skin to create a more even skin tone by matching the unpigmented areas. This is rarely necessary but can be done based on patient preference.

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To learn more about vitiligo, schedule an appointment with Dr. Damstetter. Call Reserve Dermatology in Glenview, Illinois or contact us online.