What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a condition in which pigment- producing cells (melanocytes) are destroyed. This results in irregularly shaped white patches on the skin.

Some people may only have one or two small patches, while others may have many. Some develop large patches.

While vitiligo is more noticeable in people with darker skin, it can affect people of all races.

What causes vitiligo?

The precise cause is unknown. There are a couple of theories about the cause. One such theory is the autotoxic theory which believes that the pigment-producing cells are self-destructive.

Vitiligo is also sometimes associated with some sort of physical skin injury, such as sunburn.

Vitiligo may be genetic (hereditary) as it seems to run in families.

What are the symptoms of vitiligo?

  • Irregularly shaped white patches on the skin.
  • These patches may be large or small.
  • Any part of the body can be affected, however vitiligo is most commonly found on exposed sites such as the face and arms, around body folds such as the armpits or at the site of an injury such as a burn.
  • Body hair in the affected region usually turns white. If the scalp is affected, there may be premature greying of the hair.
  • In some cases, vitiligo can affect the whole body.

If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately.

Are there any other health concerns associated with vitiligo?

Yes. While most people with vitiligo are in good general health, there seems to be a greater risk of them developing other auto-immune diseases, such as thyroid disease or pernicious anaemia.

What about sun protection?

The area of white skin CANNOT tan, it can only burn. Therefore sun block should always be used on the patches if they are exposed to sunlight.

Is it safe to use make-up to cover up vitiligo?

Yes. As long as you are not allergic, any shop-bought make-up is fine. However remember how important sun protection is. Even if the make-up has a sun protection factor in it, it is probably not strong enough to protect the white patches from burning.

Is vitiligo a progressive condition?

In many cases, yes. The condition is often progressive, with the white patches gradually spreading to other parts of the body.

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