I have recently had quite a few clients with Vitiligo, and what is striking is the shared sense of frustration that they do not really understand the condition and that there is not much information readily available.
For a condition that affects an estimated 0.5% and 2% of the general population (potentially around 600,000 people in the UK), it has traditionally received very little attention from the media and the medical profession.
(Although the media is taking more note following the appearance of Winnie Harlow, now successful international model!)
So what do we know about vitiligo? (bear in mind I am not a dermatologist!)
1. Vitiligo affects the appearance of the skin, and sometimes the hair, by turning it white in patches.
2. The white patches occur due to a lack of melanin in the affected areas of skin. Melanin gives the skin its colour and protects it from the sun.
3. Although Vitiligo is linked to autoimmune deficiencies and genetic predisposition, the way the condition develops varies from one person to another and the causes are not fully understood yet. The development of vitiligo may be triggered by such factors as: hormonal changes in the body, for example during adolescence, damage to the skin, for example from a cut or burn, extreme stress or contact with certain chemicals. As a result, its onset can start at any age.
4. Vitiligo can affect any area of skin, but most commonly occurs on skin exposed to the sun, such as face, neck and hands.
5. Vitiligo does not always spread, but in some cases nearly all the pigment of the body’s skin is lost – this is referred to as vitiligo universalis and appears to be what Michael Jackson suffered from.
6. There are some treatments available that lead to repigmentation of the skin in some people, for example topical steroid creams and light treatment but nothing that is really considered a ‘cure’ or will reliably be able to help.
Skin camouflage is one way of being able to cover up white patches temporarily, and can be very effective at concealing the condition.
Some practitioners also offer medical tattooing of the affected area – this can be very effective in small areas such as the lips, although this is only recommended when the patches are not spreading and if the rest of the skin dies not change colour (i.e. tan) easily.
Luckily, there are some fantastic support networks in the UK that can help anyone struggling to accept their Vitiligo or wanting more information both on the physical and psychological effects of Vitiligo. In particular the Vitiligo Society and Changing Faces are a great ports of call!