Vitiligo: how to reduce and limit white patches on the skin

Vitiligo is a disease that causes the skin to lose color in patches. The discolored areas usually enlarge over time. This disease can affect the skin of any part of the body. It can also affect the hair and the inside of the mouth.

Normally, hair and skin color is determined by melanin. Vitiligo occurs when cells that produce melanin die or stop working. Vitiligo affects all skin types, but it can be more noticeable in dark-skinned people. The condition is neither fatal nor contagious. It can be stressful or make you feel bad about yourself.

Vitiligo treatment can restore color to the affected skin. But it does not prevent continued loss of skin color or recurrence.

Signs of vitiligo include:

– Loss of skin color, which usually first appears on the hands, face and areas around body orifices and genitals
– Premature bleaching or graying of hair on the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard
– Loss of color of the tissues that line the inside of the mouth and nose (mucous membranes)
– Vitiligo can start at any age, but usually appears before the age of 30.

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Depending on the type of vitiligo you have, it can affect:

Almost all skin surfaces

With this type, called universal vitiligo, the discoloration affects almost every surface of the skin.

Many parts of your body

With this most common type, called generalized vitiligo, the discolored patches often progress similarly on corresponding body parts (symmetrically).

Only one side or part of your body

This type, called segmental vitiligo, tends to occur at a younger age, progress for a year or two, and then stop.

One or a few parts of your body. This type of vitiligo is called localized (focal) vitiligo.

face and hands

In this type of vitiligo, called acrofacial vitiligo, affected skin is found on the face and hands, and around body openings, such as the eyes, nose, and ears.

It is difficult to predict the course of the disease. Sometimes the plaques stop forming without treatment. In most cases, the loss of pigment spreads and eventually affects most of your skin. Sometimes the skin regains its color.

When to consult a doctor

See your doctor if areas of your skin, hair, or mucous membranes lose color. Vitiligo is not curable. But treatment can stop or slow the fading process and restore some color to your skin.

Causes of Vitiligo

Vitiligo occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) die or stop producing melanin – the pigment that gives color to your skin, hair and eyes. The affected skin patches become lighter or white. It is not known exactly what causes these pigment cells to fail or die. This may be related to:

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an immune system disorder (autoimmune disease)
Family history (heredity)
A triggering event, such as stress, severe sunburn, or skin trauma, such as contact with a chemical

Possible Complications of Vitiligo

People with vitiligo may be at an increased risk of:

Social or psychological distress
Sun burn
Vision problems
Hearing loss

The choice of treatment depends on your age, how much skin is affected and where it is, how quickly the disease progresses and how it affects your life.

Lifestyle and natural approaches

If you have vitiligo, the following self-management tactics can help you take care of your skin and improve its appearance:

Protect your skin against the sun and artificial sources of UV rays

Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30. Apply sunscreen liberally and reapply every two hours, or more often if you swim or sweat.

You can also seek shade and wear clothes that protect your skin from the sun. Do not use tanning beds or sunlamps.

Protecting your skin from the sun helps prevent sunburn from discolored skin. Sun protection also minimizes tanning, which accentuates vitiligo spots.

Hide affected skin

Makeup and self-tanning products can help minimize skin color differences. You may need to try several brands of makeup or self-tanners to find one that blends well with your normal skin tone. The color of self-tanning products does not wash out, but does fade gradually over several days.

Don’t get a tattoo

Damage to your skin, such as that caused by a tattoo, can cause a new vitiligo patch to appear within two weeks.

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alternative medicine

Limited studies show that Ginkgo biloba can restore skin color to people with vitiligo. Other small studies show that alpha-lipoic acid, folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin B-12 along with light therapy can restore color to the skin in some people.


Lebwohl MG, et al. Vitiligo. In: Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 5th ed. Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 23, 2019.

Felsten LM, et al. Vitiligo: A comprehensive overview. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2011; doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2010.10.043.

Whitton ME, et al. Interventions for vitiligo (review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://www.thecochranelibrary.com/view/0/index.html for link to abstract online. Accessed Dec. 23, 2019.

BaeJM, et al. Phototherapy for vitiligo: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatology. 2017; doi:10.1001/jamadermatology.2017.0002.

Lee JH, et al. Treatment outcomes of topical calcineurin inhibitor therapy for patients with vitiligo: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatology. 2019; doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2019.0696.


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