Happy World Vitiligo Day!
Well, hello, friends! Thanks for stopping by for this week’s awareness blog post! Today we’re going to talk about a skin condition called vitiligo. Now, I know what you’re all thinking (if you’re old enough, that is), “isn’t that the condition that Michael Jackson supposedly had?” The answer to that is, yes! Michael Jackson was heavily criticized for “bleaching his skin” to appear more white. There were swarms of people who faulted him for being a bad role model to black children and claimed he was “white-washing” himself. The truth of the matter, as stated in his autopsy report, is that Michael Jackson suffered from a chronic skin condition called vitiligo, which causes pigment in the skin to be lost. This ultimately results in the skin becoming very pale, since the skin lacks the ability to create color without pigment. Of course, the star used a myriad of other products and techniques to try to get his skin to appear to be all one color, essentially to try to cover the discoloration. He was trying to cover the effects of the condition rather than lighten his skin tone. Actually, it’s very difficult to tell that he had vitiligo by looking at his face because he did such a good job masking it. It’s really a shame that he felt the need to hide it. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and it’s a lot more common than you think. So, today, on World Vitiligo Day, let’s take a second to learn a little bit about this chronic skin condition. To all my people out there with vitiligo, happy World Vitiligo Day!
Vitiligo is a chronic skin condition that causes the skin to lose its melanin. This loss of melanin causes the skin to appear white. The white skin usually appears in patches. Vitiligo can occur anywhere on the body, and most patients have white patches in more than just one place. Vitiligo can occur on all skin colors, although it is more noticeable in people with darker skin tones. Melanocytes are the cells that produce color in skin. It is unknown why, but with vitiligo, the melanocytes are destroyed. There is no known cause of vitiligo. It is theorized that it may be an autoimmune condition because of the destruction of the melanocytes. It appears that the body may be destroying those cells itself, since no other source of the destruction can be found. With autoimmune diseases, the body mistakenly begins to attack it’s own cells, tissues, and organs. The immune system is designed to fight off anything that could be harmful, such as bacteria or a virus, but with an autoimmune disease, the immune system becomes confused and attacks it’s own normal healthy cells. Thus the name, autoimmune. Auto, meaning: self: self-immune.
Vitiligo is a common condition. There is somewhere between two and five million people in the United States who have the skin condition. That ends up being something like two percent of the American population. That doesn’t sounds like much, but it is. Most people who have vitiligo noticed the white spots and patches early in life. It generally presents itself between the ages of ten and thirty. Almost all vitiligo patients are diagnosed before the age of forty. It is not dependent on sex, and is not necessarily more likely to happen if you are a man or a woman. One thing that can impact your odds of developing the skin condition is if you have a family member who has it. Vitiligo tends to run in families. You may also be more likely to develop vitiligo if premature graying is common in your family. That does make sense, considering that gray hair occurs as a result of loss of pigment cells. There are also some autoimmune diseases that may increase your odds of developing vitiligo. Diseases such as Hashimoto’s disease (also known as autoimmune thyroid disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), or type 1 diabetes have shown to be more frequent in patients with vitiligo. Vitiligo is not contagious. Vitiligo may also be caused by a trigger event, for example a sunburn, or it may be caused by exposure to industrial chemicals or harsh chemicals.
So, naturally you’re wondering what the symptoms are. Well, with vitiligo, the only real symptom is just the skin color loss. For most people with the skin condition, the skin will suddenly and quickly begin losing pigment. This usually occurs in more than one area. Vitiligo is particularly common in places like the armpits, elbows, and any other area of the body that folds. It is also particularly common to occur around any opening on the body. It often affects the skin around the mouth and nose, as well as the hands. It can occur anywhere, though, even the hair. The area where the pigment is lost and has become white may stay the same size and shape for quite some time. It is likely, however, that at some point, the white patches will begin to spread and new patches may arise. Sometimes, patients will see long periods where the vitiligo remains the same and does not spread, followed by a period where the vitiligo is actively spreading. It may cycle back and forth. Vitiligo may appear over places that have been injured in the past, or in places that are exposed to sunlight frequently, too. It may also appear around moles. No real explanation on that one. Loss of pigment can also occur in the mucous membranes, namely the area inside your nose or the area inside your mouth. Pigment rarely returns to places where vitiligo has developed, but it’s not impossible. It’s highly unlikely, though.
There are three classifications of vitiligo. Generalized vitiligo is the most common type of the chronic skin condition. With generalized vitiligo, the white patches generally occur symmetrically on the body. They also tend to progress symmetrically. Of course, they are not completely symmetrical, and the patches may take different shapes. Segmental vitiligo occurs in young people, generally. It tends to progress for a couple years and then stop. Localized, or focal, vitiligo occurs on only a few places of the body. It is impossible to predict how any of these different types of the condition will progress over a person’s life. Sometimes, the condition will stop progressing without treatment, sometimes it wont. Generally speaking, vitiligo usually progresses and eventually covers a great deal of the skin.
Diagnosing vitiligo is relatively easy, and doesn’t require any crazy testing. Doctors can usually tell just by looking at the patches of pigment loss while conducting a physical whether or not you have the skin condition. It isn’t too difficult to identify and it tends to occur in the same kinds of places, so doctors can conclusively diagnose vitiligo by examining the skin. Some doctors may do further diagnostic testing. This may require a biopsy or blood labs. Taking a biopsy of the affected skin may be helpful in diagnosis. Blood tests may be used to determine whether there are other underlying autoimmune issues, which can sometimes be related to vitiligo. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this skin condition. There is also no way to prevent the condition from occurring. Many patients with vitiligo use makeup to cover up uneven skin color. Sometimes, corticosteroids are used to help with the appearance of the vitiligo, as well. Corticosteroid creams may be effective in restoring some of the pigment over time, especially when used early on in the disease process. There are also therapies such as light therapy combined with psoralen, which is taken orally. After taking the psoralen, patients are exposed to UVA/UVB light. There is also a therapy that evens skin tone by removing the pigment from the skin that has not been affected by the vitiligo. This is called depigmenting. There are surgical options such as skin grafting, and micropigmentation (essentially tattooing). Many of these therapies are pretty effective, but results do vary from patient to patient.
That’s it for today, guys! Thanks for reading!
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