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Vitiligo Treatment 101: Everything You Need to Know About Monobenzone

Vitiligo Treatment 101: Everything You Need to Know About Monobenzone

graphic of bottles labeled monobenzone

If you’re looking for a vitiligo treatment, you may have heard about monobenzone. Monobenzone is an FDA-approved topical cream for vitiligo and works differently from most treatments because it removes pigment from the skin rather than restoring pigment. As a result, monobenzone is most commonly used to complete the depigmentation process started by vitiligo.

Here’s a look at how monobenzone works and what you should know.

What is monobenzone?

Developed in the 1950s, monobenzone is a form of treatment that depigments the skin. Monobenzone is delivered as a cream at varying concentrations – often 10% or 20% – which refers to the amount of active substance in the cream. Depigmentation happens due to the depletion of melanocytes in the skin, which are cells at the base of the skin responsible for producing and distributing melanin, which gives skin its color.

Through depigmentation, patients with widespread pigment loss are able to even out their skin color by getting all of their skin to match the color of their vitiligo spots. Monobenzone tends to be prescribed when treatments to repigment the skin are unlikely to be successful, which could be due to a variety of reasons, including vitiligo that is widespread and large in area or actively expanding. 

What does a typical treatment course look like?

How does treatment with monobenzone work? Typically, depigmentation therapy with monobenzone is started at a 10% concentration for one month and then continued with a 20% cream. The cream is applied to areas unaffected by vitiligo once or twice a day, three or four days per week. Your doctor may advise you to start treatment with a small area for three to four months to assess your skin’s response before applying it to other areas of the body. It may take one to three years to finish the course of treatment with monobenzone.

What are the potential side effects?

It’s also important to be aware of potential side effects of monobenzone. Side effects are generally dose-dependent for monobenzone and can include rash, dry skin, balding and premature hair graying. If you experience any of these side effects, stop treatment and let your dermatologist know. Skin treated with monobenzone may also become permanently sensitive to sunlight or irritation due to loss of melanin.

Although not a side effect, it’s important to note that depigmentation due to monobenzone is almost always irreversible, unlike vitiligo. While vitiligo may naturally repigment over time, areas treated with monobenzone are likely to remain depigmented for life.

Even though monobenzone is a depigmenting agent, it should never be used to lighten skin in people without vitiligo, as it can trigger vitiligo in unaffected individuals.

If you’d like to learn more about monobenzone and find out if you are a good candidate for this form of treatment, talk to your dermatologist. 

What has been your experience with monobenzone?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please consult your dermatologist to determine the best treatment options for you.

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