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Vitiligo: Understanding What It Is & How to Treat It

SurIf you have discolored skin or skin patches, also know as vitiligo, you may feel embarrassed to expose certain body parts. Since vitiligo can be a life-altering condition the dermatologists at Dermatology & Mohs Surgery Institute can help provide a treatment plan and get you feeling like yourself again.


What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a medical skin condition where the skin loses its natural pigmentation, causing white spots to appear. When the body begins to attack its own melanocytes (cells that give our skin, hair and other areas color). These cells live in the skin, hair, lips, eyes and other places. When the body attacks them, the result can be white spots appearing on the skin.

Patients may develop vitiligo signs including only a few spots and others may develop extensive spots. Spots can appear on the knees, elbows, and other body parts including eyes losing some color or hair even turning white. The cause is unknown and it is not contagious, but it is important to have the skin examined to be sure it isn’t a different skin condition and to find treatment ideas.


How to Treat Vitiligo

Those with vitiligo may be at risk for other medical conditions, which is why it is important to get in contact with a dermatologist immediately after noticing signs of vitiligo. Vitiligo symptoms may include problems with their vision and abnormal tear production, autoimmune diseases and/or anxiety and depression. Luckily, there are more treatments now than ever before that can restore lost skin color including medications, sunscreen, therapies and surgeries.


Treatment Options

While there are no drugs that stop the process of vitiligo, some can restore the skin tone. Creams that control inflammation such as corticosteroid cream can help return color especially if started early in the disease.

Therapies combining psoralen and light therapy help return color to the light patches. Psoralen can be taken orally or applied to the skin and then the affected skin is exposed to ultraviolet A, UVB light or excimer light. These treatments may need to be repeated up to three times per week for six months to one year.

Another therapy available helps remove the remaining color and is best suited when vitiligo is widespread and you have already tried other treatments. A depigmenting agent is applied to unaffected areas gradually lightening the skin so it blends with the discolored areas. It is done up to two times per day for at least nine months.


Surgical Treatments

Surgery is an option if medication and light therapy does not work. Three surgical options may include skin grafting, blister grafting or tattooing. During skin grafting small section of normal skin is attached to areas that have lost pigment. During blister grafting, blisters are created on the pigmented skin. Next, the top of the blister is removed and transplanted to an area of discolored skin. Lastly, tattooing involves implanting pigment into the skin. It is most effective in or around the lips and on those with a darker complexion.

Living with vitiligo may be a life-long condition, but luckily there are many treatments to help subside its appearance. If you are in the Bloomington, Illinois or surrounding areas and are looking to diagnose or for a treatment plan for vitiligo, fill out this form and the dermatologists at Dermatology & Mohs Surgery Institute will be in touch.

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