Vitiligo – it’s a complicated disease that is still being researched today. And although those with vitiligo want answers, there is also a lack of education and information available online. That’s why we decided to round up answers to top questions about vitiligo from leading experts and resources.
Here are twenty-one answers to commonly asked questions about vitiligo.
#1 What Is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a condition in which pigment is lost from areas of the skin, causing white patches. It has also been known to affect pigment in hair and eyes, although this is less common.
#2 How Many People Have Vitiligo?
About 1% of the world’s population (50 million people) has vitiligo. In the United States, 2 to 5 million people have the condition. Many people develop vitiligo in their twenties, but it can occur at any age. The condition affects all races and both sexes equally.
#3 What Are The Chances Of Getting Vitiligo?
Without a first-degree relative, the risk is 1 in 100. With a parent, sibling or child connection, the risk is 6 in 100. Identical twins have a risk of 23 in 100.
#4 What Causes Vitiligo?
Vitiligo occurs when melanin-forming cells (melanocytes) die and stop producing melanin – the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes color. The involved patches of skin become lighter or white, but doctors do not know what causes the cells to fail or die. It may be related to an autoimmune disease, genetics or a trigger event such as sunburn or emotional distress.
#5 What Are The Symptoms Of Vitiligo?
The main sign of vitiligo is loss of color (pigment) on the skin in the form of white patches. Patches can appear on many parts of the body, on one side or just part of the body, or only on a few areas of the body. Vitiligo can spread slowly, rapidly or not at all. Less than one percent of those with vitiligo eventually have universal vitiligo, characterized by having 80% or more coverage of vitiligo on the skin.
#6 What Are The Side Effects Of Vitiligo?
While white patches on the skin are the only physical result of vitiligo, there are side effects for people living with the condition. Vitiligo patches tend to burn more easily, making it difficult for those with the condition to spend time in the sun. Many who live with vitiligo experience social anxiety and difficulty coping emotionally, resulting in lowered self-esteem and depression.
#7 Is Vitiligo Contagious?
No, it is not contagious because it is a genetic disease.
#8 Are There Types Of Vitiligo?
Yes, there are five classifications of vitiligo that are categorized by where depigmentation occurs on the body. These include focal, segmental, acro facial, generalized and universal.
#9 Are There Treatments For Vitiligo?
Yes, there are several types of treatment for vitiligo including creams that control inflammation, medications, light therapy, laser therapy, skin grafting, and depigmentation. Treatments help to restore skin color, but results vary, are unpredictable and can have side effects.
#10 Is Vitiligo Associated With Any Other Diseases?
Yes, 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.
#11 How Do I Get Diagnosed For Vitiligo?
#12 Can Stress Cause Vitiligo?
No, but stress can trigger 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.
#13 Can A Gluten-Free Diet Reverse My 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.
#14 Does Having Vitiligo Increase Your Risk Of 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.
#15 Do I Need To Wear Sunscreen If I Have Vitiligo?
Yes. Dermatologists recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 and higher for those with vitiligo. Both broad spectrum and SPF 30 are key here. While SPF measures effectiveness against UVB rays, both UVA and UVB rays can be harmful to the skin. Broad spectrum sunscreen will protect against both. When applying, don’t forget to put product on your ears, feet, back of your legs and under your arms – areas commonly forgotten.
#16 Do I Need More Vitamin D If I Have Vitiligo?
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, experts recommend taking oral supplementation until levels are within the normal range. With that said, the relationship between vitamin D and pigmentation is complicated and still being studied.
#17 Can Sunburn 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.
#18 Is There A Cure For Vitiligo?
No, there is not a cure for vitiligo because the actual cause is unknown.
#19 Is There Research Being Done On Vitiligo?
There is more research being conducted today on vitiligo than ever before. Current research is investigating how trauma and stress trigger vitiligo; new treatments and a better understanding of the condition; genes that may cause or contribute to vitiligo; and analysis of genes already linked to vitiligo.
#20 Who Might I Know Who Has Vitiligo?
Michael Jackson is the most iconic figure to have vitiligo as the condition was responsible for his skin transformation. The model Winnie Harlow also became known for the condition after appearing on America’s Next Top Model.
#21 How Do You Pronounce “Vitiligo”?
To hear it correctly, say the words “little I go.” Then replace the first “L” with a “V” – giving you “Vittle I Go.” Run the words together and you can the correct pronunciation.
What do you want to know about vitiligo?
Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. 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.