White Patches On Skin? Vitiligo

What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a condition that de-pigments areas of skin on the face and body. Vitiligo equally affects men, women and children of all races and nationalities. Approximately 1% -2% of the world’s population is affected by vitiligo. Here in the UK, it is 1 person in every 100. It ranges to very small patches of missing pigment around the eyes, mouth, ears and hands to large areas on the torso and the limbs. Melanocytes are the cells in the skin that create colour in our pigment. Should these cells die and are not replaced then no further pigment is produced to colour the skin. It is often concentrated around moist areas and folds of the skin and areas of the body and limbs.

Any signs of missing pigment on the body should not be ignored. Many of you that are suffering from a skin condition called vitiligo, will have great understanding of the roller coast of emotions endured whilst your skin changes uncontrollably before your eyes. Some of my clients recall that they felt an itchy rash with an area of pigment missing from their skin or around a mole. This was to be their first sign of diagnosed vitiligo. We can sometimes experience missing pigment if we have had an accident that has taken several top layers of the skin. In some cases, skin conditions such as eczema can leave white patches of skin, or even sun damage. Many of my clients felt that their vitiligo was triggered after a very stressful period in their life.

Nobody actually really knows what triggers such an aggressive skin condition. Aggressive being such a strong word, but consider the hopelessness, as you awake every morning to see yet another patch of pigment missing from your skin. Each morning you wake up only to closely scrutinize every centimetre of your skin to see if any colour has returned.  

Generalised vitiligo is most common and will show in all areas scattered around the body. Focal vitiligo often occurs in childhood in one or two macules located in one area of the body.

Acrofacial vitiligo is concentrated around the fingers, feet and face and mucosal vitiligo will de- pigment the mucous membrane. The speed of de-pigmentation will vary with vitiligo, but in some cases some patients are affected by as much as 70% loss of pigment to their skin, termed as vitiligo universalis. It is at this stage that some patients are faced with the possible decision of completely de-pigmenting the remaining areas.

What can also occur with vitiligo is hyper-pigmentation. Hyper-pigmentation darkened areas of skin.  This can sometimes occur when the skin starts to re pigment.

You may recall the debate of Michael Jackson and his skin slowly losing it’s colour and tone over the years, where it had been speculated that he himself suffered from vitiligo universalis, and upon his death, tubes of skin lightening creams associated with vitiligo were discovered in his home. Whilst it is being said that Michael Jackson was diagnosed with vitiligo universalis, it is recognised that the option to de-pigment any remaining pigmented areas using skin lightening creams are sometimes prescribed to achieve this. 

At Take Cover Skin System, I have had some of my clients tell me their thoughts, feelings and frustrations associated to vitiligo and what it is they would do when they are faced with such a decision of completely de-pigmenting. For one of my client’s who is of Asian origin, the conflict of having two different tones to contend with is what distresses him the most, and whilst rapidly losing his golden brown pigment, he would rather go totally ‘white’. Another client of African origin felt that she could not face being totally ‘white’, so would contemplate moving to another country to change  her identity.

Quality of life is vital, so treatment strategies are an important aspect when dealing with  skin conditions. A therapeutic approach for both medical and aesthetic solutions has been proven to lower the anxiety levels in a patient with skin conditions such as vitiligo.  This leads to patients managing their lives more effectively with an increased level of confidence and social participation.