Mythbusters: 8 Things You Might Not Know about Vitiligo

Does stress cause vitiligo? Can sun exposure cause vitiligo to spread? The internet is full of information – and misinformation – about vitiligo. That’s why we’re turning to the experts for answers to the most-asked questions and myths about vitiligo today.

A board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Nada Elbuluk is an Assistant Professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology. She’s also a well-known dermatologist within the vitiligo community, regularly taking part in national and international vitiligo research and patient conferences. Here’s what she had to say about these frequently asked questions about vitiligo.

Myth #1: Stress can cause vitiligo.

People often think that stress causes vitiligo, but this is not accurate. People who get vitiligo typically have a genetic predisposition to it and stress or trauma can be the trigger for the onset of the vitiligo, but it is not the underlying cause of it.

Myth #2: Removing gluten from your diet can cure vitiligo.

Gluten-free diets have only been shown to possibly have a benefit in helping vitiligo improve in those who have celiac disease. There are no scientific findings to support that removing gluten from one’s diet would make a difference if one does not have celiac disease.

Myth #3: Vitiligo patients have a higher risk of skin cancer.

Several recent studies have shown that vitiligo patients actually have a decreased risk of skin cancer than the general population. With that said, vitiligo patients should still be diligent about sun protection just like anyone else without vitiligo. It’s recommended that those with vitiligo wear sunscreen on a daily basis with SPF 30 or higher and reapply every two hours if out for extended periods of time.

Myth #4: Vitiligo patients need more vitamin D.

Many vitiligo patients are vitamin D deficient but there has been no data to show that vitiligo patients need more vitamin D. For patients that are deficient, we do recommend that they take oral supplementation until their levels are within the normal range. With that said, the relationship between vitamin D and pigmentation is complicated and still being studied.

Myth #5: Sun exposure can cause vitiligo to spread.

Everyday sun exposure does not cause vitiligo to spread, however having a sunburn can be a trigger for the onset or spread of vitiligo. Therefore, to decrease this risk as well as the risk of skin cancer, those with vitiligo should be diligent about wearing sun protection daily.

Myth #6: Vitiligo is only hereditary.

Vitiligo does have a hereditary component and it, along with other autoimmune diseases, can run in families. The heritability of vitiligo is only one part of the multiple causes of vitiligo which include genetics, environment, and autoimmune causes.

Myth #7: Only people with dark skin get vitiligo.

Vitiligo can occur in all skin colors. It is not more common in darker skin, only more visible in darker skin.

Myth #8: Vitiligo has no disease associations.

Vitiligo can be associated with other medical conditions including autoimmune conditions, with thyroid disease being the most common in 20-30 percent of vitiligo patients.

Follow Dr. Elbuluk on Instagram at @skindrnada.

What questions do you have about vitiligo?

Photo by Shawna Simmons.

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Erika Page

Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. Her first spots appeared on her spine when she was seven years old and today vitiligo covers her entire body. Based just south of Washington, D.C., Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.

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