Could sea salt baths mimic Dead Sea treatment for vitiligo? Groundbreaking studies out of the Republic of Kazakhstan suggest the answer might be yes.
The largest saline lake in the world, the Dead Sea has unique therapeutic properties that effect vitiligo. Patients with vitiligo will travel to the Dead Sea Medical Center in Jordan to undergo climatotherapy, which taps into the healing benefits of the area’s air and water mineral composition, in addition to the properties of sunlight 1400 feet below sea level. Dr. Kassymkhanova, chair of the Vitiligo Center in Kazakhstan, wanted to tap into the benefits of Dead Sea treatment – without making her patients travel.
Working with 298 vitiligo patients over a period of more than ten years, she combined UV light therapy – the leading standard for vitiligo treatment today – with Dead Sea salt baths to treat vitiligo. The results were promising. Not only did her patients see successful re-pigmentation, but the remission period was longer than the average remission for phototherapy alone.
Here’s how and why this new treatment was so successful – and what’s next.
How does it work?
At the Vitiligo Clinic, the healing properties of the Dead Sea are imitated in a combination therapy using UV phototherapy and sea salt baths. Patients soak in baths with commercially available salts from the Dead Sea for 10-15 minutes before drying off excess water and undergoing NB UVB phototherapy treatment. Patients undergo this treatment twice a week for 5 weeks with a 2-month grace period before starting another course. The light therapy – also known as phototherapy – involves regular, brief exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light that stimulates the melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing pigment in your skin. However, prolonged phototherapy can thicken the skin, which reduces the effect of the light therapy. That’s where salt from the Dead Sea comes in. Contact with the salt water increases the penetrability of the skin and allows more UV light to reach the melanocytes.
What did the studies show?
Dr. Kassymkhanova’s results show that this form of Dead Sea therapy is a safe and effective treatment for vitiligo. While treated patches on the hand and feet were not as successful, 60% of the 298 patients treated during the study had significant improvement during the 13-month average treatment period and experienced a maximum remission period of 10 years. These patients underwent an average of 90-100 treatments and showed promising results.
Add some salt, what’s the big deal?
Since treatment is only just that – a treatment, not a cure – the vitiligo that has re-pigmented will eventually return. Ultimately, you want the remission time, which is the time that the re-pigmented skin stays pigmented, to be as long as possible. On average, patients in remission from phototherapy will retain regimented areas for four to seven years. However, when combined with Dead Sea salt baths, results from the remission period are proven to last much longer. In fact, patients at the Vitiligo Center who underwent combination therapy experienced a remission period of eight to ten years after successful treatment.
What’s next with this research?
There is still a lot of research to be done on this form of combination therapy. Dr. Kassymkhanova presented her research to patients, researchers and dermatologists at the 2018 World Vitiligo Day Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, and scientists around the world are eager to test the new combination therapy. In other words – we’re still waiting, but there are promising results on the horizon.
Deepa Mistry is a college student from New York studying biochemistry and economics who finds her vitiligo to be a blessing in disguise. What used to be a burden has now become a pillar of strength and she hopes to inspire others to find content with their vitiligo. She enjoys writing and dancing.