Vitiligo - Marlene J. Mash, MD

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Medical Dermatology
Vitiligo is a condition that causes depigmentation of parts of the skin. It occurs when skin pigment cells die or are unable to function. The cause of vitiligo, aside from cases of contact with certain chemicals, is unknown, but research suggests it may arise from autoimmune, genetic, oxidative stress, neural, or viral causes.

The only sign of vitiligo is the presence of pale patchy areas of depigmented skin which tend to occur on the extremities. The patches are initially small, but often grow and change shape. When skin lesions occur, they are most prominent on the face, hands and wrists. The loss of skin pigmentation is particularly noticeable around body orifices, such as the mouth, eyes, nostrils, genitalia and navel. Some lesions have increased skin pigment around the edges. Patients who are stigmatized for their condition may experience depression and similar mood disorders.

Although multiple theories have been suggested as potential triggers that cause vitiligo, studies have most strongly implicated changes in the immune system as being responsible for the condition. While genetic predisposition to vitiligo undoubtedly exists, it is believed that vitiligo onset is strongly affected by environmental factors.
Four options are currently available for the treatment of vitiligo:

  • sunscreens
  • cover-up
  • restoration of normal skin color
  • bleaching of normal skin with topical creams to remove normal skin pigment to make an even color

There is no cure for vitiligo. The goal of treatment is to stop or slow the progression of depigmentation and, if you desire, attempt to return some color to your skin.

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