Those who have vitiligo might already know that exposure to sunlight is what prompted its development and that it can evolve over time. Let’s explore how the sun interacts with this skin condition.
Vitiligo is activated from sun exposure in childhood, when the pigment-producing cells, melanocytes, are destroyed. This depigmentation of the skin results in spots and patches of very pale skin, in contrast to the normal skin shade of the individual. It can occur anywhere on the body, but most often it happens in areas frequently exposed to the sun, like the hands, face, arms, and legs. The condition usually starts to show in childhood, and it can continue to spread in adulthood if not managed.
While this skin condition isn’t contagious, it’s believed to be caused by a genetic predisposition that is activated by a certain amount of sun exposure. People who have vitiligo might experience embarrassment or stress, which can be worsened by people’s unfamiliarity with the condition if they stare or ask questions.
There are three types of vitiligo: focal, segmental, and generalized. Focal vitiligo is concentrated, or focused, in one area. Segmental vitiligo is the rarest form, where it is isolated to one side, although not necessarily contained in one area on that side. Generalized vitiligo appears in several areas across the body.
Vitiligo isn’t painful or dangerous, but it can leave skin more vulnerable to sun damage due to the lack of pigment. Like everyone should do even with normal skin, it’s important to take proactive steps to protect yourself from UV light such as wearing sunscreen, covering your skin with clothes when possible, and avoiding direct sunlight, especially between the hours of 10 and 4.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for vitiligo, although there are ways to manage it in addition to attentive care in the sun. For mild or isolated cases of discoloration, using makeup for coverage is an option with easy application and removal.
In the case of more widespread discoloration, there are professional options that can help slow and potentially diminish the effects. Light therapy for vitiligo is one of the most common and effective treatments to slow down and control the spread of the disorder. In some cases, laser therapies can help activate healing. Most laser and light therapies are used in conjunction with a vitiligo medicine to control the inflammation that breaks down the pigment-creating cells.
It can take several months of any treatment to see an effect. Treatment is normally focused on controlling the spread of vitiligo, since recoloration is difficult, when possible. Advanced cases may not be able to see restoration of pigment, but early-stage cases may respond and produce results. When skin doesn’t respond to therapies, it may be possible for a surgical solution like a skin graft to correct the problem.
If you have vitiligo, chances are that your doctors diagnosed this as a child. If you’re a parent and your son or daughter has vitiligo, making sure they know about the condition and how to manage it is important to build good, lifelong habits and a comfort level in their own skin. Despite our best efforts, we may need support when keeping vitiligo contained and under control. Our skin experts at SE Dermatology can provide you with knowledgeable care. Schedule a consultation today!