Millions of people worldwide have vitiligo, a condition that causes the skin to lose its natural color, resulting in patches of light skin. Although the white or light patches do not typically cause other symptoms, the condition can cause low self-esteem and depression in patients- of whom nearly half develop vitiligo before the age of 21. Although there is no cure for vitiligo, dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology say there is a lot patients can do at home to make vitiligo less visible and help prevent the condition from spreading.
"Many people with vitiligo do not have any other signs or symptoms and feel completely healthy," says board-certified dermatologist Anisha Patel, MD, FAAD. "However, the change in appearance caused by vitiligo can affect people emotionally, especially those who are younger and more concerned about their appearance. The good news is that there are things patients can do at home to make the condition more manageable."
To help vitiligo patients care for their skin, Dr. Patel recommends the following tips:
- Protect your skin from the sun- Exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays increases your risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form. Since vitiligo skin can burn more easily, it's important to protect your skin whenever you're outdoors. To do this, seek shade, wear protective clothing-;including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and apply sunscreen to all areas of the body not covered by clothing. Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and remember to reapply every two hours when you're outside or after swimming or sweating.
- Avoid tanning- Just like the sun, tanning beds also emit damaging UV rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer, including melanoma. Further, if you have a light skin tone, tanning may make your vitiligo more pronounced by increasing the contrast between your natural skin color and the light patches.
- If desired, safely add color to your skin- If you wish to conceal patches of light skin, consider using a concealing cream or makeup. For the best results, look for one that is waterproof. If you want the color to last for longer periods of time, try a self-tanner or skin dye that contains dihydroxyacetone. Ask your dermatologist for recommendations on which products to try.
- Be careful with your skin- Trauma to the skin, such as scrapes, cuts or burns, can cause new vitiligo patches to develop. Although accidents can happen, do your best to avoid injuring your skin.
- Do not get a tattoo- A tattoo ultimately wounds the skin; the tattoo gun punctures the skin with a needle that has ink in it. Because of this trauma, getting a tattoo can cause a new patch of vitiligo to appear on your skin about 10 to 14 days later.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle- To support the immune system, reduce stress and eat a balanced, nutritional diet. Since stress may cause vitiligo patches to appear, use techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or exercise to minimize stress. Your mental health is important too. If you feel depressed, ashamed or self-conscious about changes to your appearance, it can help to connect with others who have vitiligo. Make sure to communicate these feelings to your dermatologist who can refer you to a vitiligo support group.
There are many treatment options available for people with vitiligo, including creams, light therapy and surgical treatments. If treatment is desired, see a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible, as the more active your vitiligo, the better it responds to treatment. A dermatologist will work with you to create a treatment plan that's customized for you and may also test for thyroid disease, as people who have vitiligo often have thyroid disease, and treatment can successfully control your vitiligo."
Anisha Patel, MD, FAAD
These tips are demonstrated in "Vitiligo Skin Care Tips," a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD's "Video of the Month" series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails.