Having vitiligo can mean dealing with some pretty challenging changes that occur to your body. Although it is not life-threatening or contagious, these drastic changes can take an emotional toll on those who suffer from it. Not being able to hide from vitiligo in an increasingly superficial world can make your self- confidence take a nosedive. However, seeking the appropriate treatment along with embracing your differences means you don’t have to stop living your best life.
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo (vit-ih-LIE-go) happens when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. Melanin is what helps determine the color of your skin or hair. The loss of melanin occurs in patches or spots, and the amount of skin impacted, and the rate of growth is unpredictable. One of the main symptoms is patchy loss of skin color, usually first appearing on sun-exposed areas such as the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips. Other symptoms include premature whitening of the hair on scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard. The loss of color in the tissues inside your mouth and loss of color in the inner layer of the eye (retina) are others.
Vitiligo affects all ages, races, and genders, usually occurring before a person hits 20. There are three types of vitiligo:
- Generalized– This is the most common type where patches progress symmetrically on many parts of the body.
- Segmental– This type typically occurs at a younger age, where patches spread on one side or area of the body for 1-2 years, then stops.
- Localized– This happens in one or very few areas of the body.
It is unknown why the cells stop functioning or die. Still, some causes can be related to an autoimmune disease, heredity, or being triggered by an event such as sunburn, stress, or toxic chemical exposure. Although vitiligo can cover the entire body, it is rarely serious. However, having it can increase your risk of psychological stress, loss of hearing, sunburn and skin cancer, and eye issues such as inflammation of the iris.
Famous with Vitiligo
Winnie Harlow is breaking down barriers as a model with vitiligo. For centuries models needed to “look” a certain way and be a specific size. Winnie has not let her vitiligo keep her from pursuing her dreams. She’s appeared on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, a Sprite commercial, and even on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” music video.
Other well-known celebrities that don’t let vitiligo slow them down are Rasheed Wallace, Jon Hamm, Joe Rogan, and Steve Martin. These stars continue to prove that vitiligo doesn’t define them or stop them from doing what they want in life.
Treatment Options and Clinical Research
There is no cure for vitiligo, and no treatment will stop the progression of it, or prevent new patches from appearing. The goal of available therapies help restore pigmentation to affected areas, or even out overall skin tone. Non-surgical options include creams that control inflammation, a medication that affects the immune system, psoralen, and light therapy, and depigmentation. Surgical options include skin grafting, blister grafting, and micro-pigmentation tattooing.
Future treatment options are being explored in clinical research trials. Medication that reverses the loss of color and a procedure that helps promote the growth of melanin cells are a few examples of what research is doing in the fight against vitiligo. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with vitiligo, clinical research may be an option for you. To find out more about our enrolling vitiligo studies, click HERE.